Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stage One: Objective Completed

Jonathan Walton finally (and I say "finally" with all due respect) got around to the last batch of Stage One entries and had nothing but good things to say about Half of Everything Is Luck. Things like:
  • "This game is straight-up terrific."
  • "Mike knocked this one out of the park."
  • "[One particular thing in the game] is hilarious."
  • "[Smells like Pierce Brosnan.]"
Anyway, modesty forbids me from any more self-aggrandizement, but you can read the whole thing here

Upshot is, Half of Everything Is Luck "definitely gets an invitation" (oops, one more nugget of self-aggrandizement!), so yay me, yay the game, and so on. Thanks Jonathan!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stage One: Addendum

I have to say I'm pretty blown away by the response to Half of Everything Is Luck. My last post on it had a whopping six viewers. That's the equivalent of everyone who follows this blog reading it once! It's pretty gratifying when you can reach 100% of your audience.

Anyway, I've made a couple post-deadline improvements to the game based on feedback from one person, and I figured I'd post 'em here for anyone who's interested. And really, even if only half of the people who read that last post are interested, that's still three people -- enough to play a multiplayer game of Goldeneye! The mind reels.

So here they are.

Instead of spending Rounds and tracking Ammo Reserves, every weapon has a row of check boxes and a set of coins (pennies, nickels, or dimes). The boxes represent its Clip. Every time you roll a 1 on a Shoot die (regardless of whether it's “kept,” if Aiming), check a box. When the last box is checked, the Clip is empty, and you need to Reload.

A Weapon's coins represent the Ammo for it you're currently carrying. When you Reload that weapon, clear its Clip boxes and spend one of its coins. When you spend its last coin, you're out of Ammo. Ammo Boxes have two coins, while dead Guards and Crates have only one. You can only have a limited number of each type of coin at a time, as shown below.

PP7: □ □ / 3 pennies
AF7: □ / 4 nickels
Sniper Rifle: □ □ □ / 2 dimes

You start the game with one penny and no nickels or dimes. If you get one or more coins for a Weapon you don't have, you get the Weapon instead (and no coins).

Every map segment has a minimum number of Guards it must have: 4 for Drop Point, 6 for Roadway, and 8 for Dam. If the dice give you less than that, roll a number of additional dice equal to the difference, right on the page. This time, though, reset 4s to 1s, 5s to 2s, and 6s to 3s – in other words, every die is a Guard.
For example, if you've only rolled three Guards on Roadway instead of the minimum of six, roll another 3d6. Let's say those dice come up 1, 4, and 6. That gives you two more Level 1 Guards and a Level 3 Guard.

There you go. Play in good health.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Stage One: Half of Everything Is Luck

After doing some grueling research tonight -- plugging the N64 back in and playing Goldeneye 007 to refresh my memory -- my entry for Stage One, Half of Everything Is Luck, is done.

I agonized for some time over the name, and nearly settled on one of several really bad puns, but playing the Facility reminded me of the dialogue at the end between Bond and Trevelyan (which the movie ripped off word for word, BTW). "Half of everything is luck" seems like a pretty accurate summation of this game.

I've seen people posting about the layout they've done for their entries, and my reaction has been, "Man, layout? For reals? I'm just trying to squeeze everything on the page here." So it's not pretty, and it's not fancy, and it's probably wordier and crunchier than most submissions, but I'm willing to bet it's one of the only one-person games made for this thing, so that's something, anyway. Honestly, it never even occurred to me to make it anything but a solo game, given the source material. That means giving the opposing forces (many, many guards) behavioral scripts, which ate up its fair share of space and brainpower.

Playing the Dam again was an interesting experience, that's for sure. There's so much I just remembered wrong. For example, why did I think there were two modes of movement, roughly equivalent to walking and running? Uh-uh. It's all just walking.  Fast walking, sure, but walking nonetheless. And why did I think there was some PP7 ammo in there somewhere? And why did I think there was more than one sniper rifle? Most of these tricks of my memory were fixed in the final game, but some of them -- like the sniper rifle thing -- weren't, for the sake of gameplay. It's just better, IMO, if all guards in towers have sniper rifles. Makes things a little more interesting.

I'd also misnamed two of the weapons. AK-47? PPK? What was I thinking? No -- AF7 and PP7. Duh!

I'm rambling here. Practically speaking, it's an hour later than it really is right now, so that's my excuse. Anyway, check out the game, give it a whirl, and tell me what you think.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stage One: Goldeneye

Well, hello blog! Yikes, it's been over a month. I hate when that happens.

Anyway, Jonathan Walton -- Master Chef of Game Chef for the past few years -- has a game design contest going right now that's captured my attention and imagination. The challenge: Make an "analog" version of the first stage or level of a video game. The whole thing has to fit on one sheet of paper, front and back, and the deadline's this Sunday, the 6th.

The first thing I thought of was Goldeneye N64, because some part of my brain is constantly thinking about Goldeneye, so that's what I'm doing. Goldeneye's first "level" -- or map, anyway -- is Arkhangelsk Dam, a rather straight-up Point-A-to-Point-B mission, which makes it pretty well-suited for this kind of thing.

Don't just stand there!
I'm representing the map itself with three sheets of college-ruled notebook paper, corresponding to the Drop Point, the Tunnel, and the Dam itself. These are pretty major abstractions of the actual map, of course, but obviously a good deal of abstraction is necessary to make this thing work at all. On each sheet, the player -- it's a solo game -- rolls 8d6. Wherever the dice land, that's where a thing is. The numbers on the dice tell you what those things are, whether guards or crates or whatever.

Movement and distance are measured in lines on the page, and your goal is to get from the "bottom" of the first sheet of paper to the "top" of the third. Time is measured in ticks, and the difficulty level you choose (Agent, Secret Agent, or 00 Agent) determines how many ticks you get. Everything you do in the game costs one or more ticks. Run out of ticks and you fail your mission.

Of course, you can also just get shot and die. Difficulty level also limits how many hits you can take. At Agent you're a virtual tank; at 00 Agent, a paper tiger. You take hits when you're within a guard's range and roll poorly (although even rolling poorly can kill a guard), so if you charge in there AK a-blazin', you're going get shot up real good, much like in the source material. Your best bet is to aim and shoot 'em from a distance with a silenced weapon before they're aware of you.

Along the way, there's the possibility of one or more secondary objectives to accomplish, like hacking into the installation's mainframe with your rad 14.4k modem. This costs ticks, like everything else, and if you try to do it where a guard can see you, you will be shot unto death.

It all looks playable, faithful, and even fun to me, which is great, but meeting the space requirement is proving to be nearly impossible. With some severe margins and small type, right now it all fits onto two pages (or one page front and back, if you will) with about two lines to spare -- but part of the contest also involves including guidelines for playing through Stage Two. That means the Facility.

For England, James. And, y'know, revenge.
The Facility is awesome, maybe the best map and/or level in the game, but it's also a little complex (no pun intended) to describe in two lines of text. I'd do the Facility in four pages, I think: Hallways, Pipes, Labs, Plant. You need a key (found on one of the guards) to get from Hallways to Pipes and from Labs to Plant. There's a secondary objective here, too: making contact with Dr. Doak, who's either in the Pipes or the Labs. In the interest of simplicity, I'd forgo worrying about civilian casualties.

So there's that, in a nutshell. I'm going to have to decide pretty soon whether I want to be eligible to win the contest -- possibly getting the game published in a short-run small-press thing, which would be super-cool --  or just create a game I like. If the latter, then I don't have to worry about space restrictions. If the former, then... I'm going to have to find a way to either outline the Facility in a couple lines (the above description is not enough, IMO), or edit what I have even more to make room.

Either way, when I'm done, I'll put the PDF online.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gateway 2011: Belated Wrap-Up

All right, so... what, three weeks after the fact? But still, Gateway this year was a good time, so I want to make sure I get around to telling the Internet about it. It was just jam-packed with great games.

Friday 2:00
I may make a Friday-afternoon Dangers & Dragons game a Strategicon tradition. It's a great way to kick off the con, and it requires literally no prep outside of remembering to pack my laminated character sheets 'n stuff. This time we had Brian Allred, Andrew Linstrom, Morgan Ellis, and Megan McDonald matching wits with two Lizard Queens (one good, one bad), a reanimated paladin, and a dracolich, among other calamities. Good times.

Friday 8:00
Nothing! Kinda merciful, in a way. It gave me a chance to prep for Saturday's By The Gods! game, which... was a bit more time-consuming than expected. And eat. And sleep, but not nearly enough of that.

Saturday 9:00
Hamish Cameron and his kick-ass game of Dungeon World. I was determined to get into this game, because I'd only played Dungeon World once before and felt I desperately needed another look at it in action before running it the next day. Also, I just wanted to play it again because it was a lot of fun when Colin ran it at Gamex. On both counts, the game delivered. I played a bard, which was way more effective than you probably think it would've been. Part of that was down to the fact that I put myself at the center of the story as the Spider Queen's ex-lover from centuries before. I'd left her when she started to get way too into spiders, but promised to return one day... to kill her. So ol' Daelwyn the elven bard had a pretty personal investment in things.

The bard has some great starting Moves. One of them, Well Traveled, only got used once (and kinda could only be used once), but it set the stage for a lot of what came later in a very cool way, including Chalt the almost-drider and an enchanted sword I'd left behind to aid in the future killing of evil spidery ex-lovers.

The monstrous Spider Queen herself was the highlight, though. Instead of the standard set of compound eyes, she had a thousand thousand faces instead of eyes. And each of those faces had a thousand thousand smaller faces for eyes. And it was just faces all the way down. So... pretty creepy, really, especially when she kissed me with all those eye-faces and melded my lute into my arm. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a Hard Move.

Saturday 2:00
Last year, I wrote a partial sword-and-sorcery hack of Icons called Sigils. What with one thing and another, that hack mutated and evolved and twisted into something fairly distant from Icons called By The Gods!

So. This was the first playtest of By The Gods!, and it was really great in the sense that it revealed a bunch of fundamental flaws with the system that were apparently invisible without seeing it in action. However, by the same token, it was also terribly frustrating. It became pretty clear pretty soon where the problems lay, and I knew I could probably fix it given 30 minutes or so, but I didn't want to stop everything and do that in the middle of a convention game. If it were just, like, a bunch of my friends from San Diego or Torrance or  something, I probably would've, but it felt weird to ask people to have that kind of patience in a convention setting. So we soldiered on, and I patched things as best I could, and we rushed to an epic ending that  ultimately felt fairly empty and unearned (to me, anyway). People gave some useful feedback, though, for which I was/am grateful.

Let's see if I can remember all the playtesters off the top of my head three weeks after the fact: Denys Mordred, Alex Slizza, Morgan Ellis, Vernon Lingley... uh... well, four out of six ain't bad.

(As an addendum, By The Gods! got its second playtest today, also in a convention-ish-type setting, and it went much, much better. This is mostly because I took another hard look at it not as an Icons descendant, but as its own game, and in the process ended up changing a lot of fundamental things about it. The dice mechanic, for one -- used to be d6-d6, now it uses the same dice mechanic (more or less) from Tales of the Glass Slipper, an Game Fu entry of mine from a couple years ago. I'd always liked the dice mechanic and thought it full of promise, and the players today seemed to really get into it as well, so it looks like we're on the right track. In fact, today's playtest succeeded on nearly every level, but then again it's pretty significantly different in many ways from the Gateway version, so that's not a big surprise. One thing's for sure: It bears pretty much no resemblance to Icons now.)

Saturday 8:00
I was psyched to check out Hollowpoint, the new RPG of bad people doing bad things for bad reasons from the VSCA, the folks who brought you (and me) Diaspora not too long ago. And we had a pretty stellar group for it: Hamish as GM, and me, Chris Czerniak, Sam Carter, and my longtime convention companion Morgan Ellis as players.

Still, something wasn't quite right. It took a while to put our collective finger on it. Part of it was a disconnect between what we'd been told the game was -- "Jason Statham, the RPG!" -- and what it ended up being, which was more like "Jason Statham in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels the RPG!" We didn't feel like hypercompetent badasses. Rather, we felt pretty competent in one or two areas, and rather inept at everything else. I mean, Morgan was pinned down in an office cubicle and riddled by machine guns. That doesn't seem especially badass. Although, to be fair, he also survived, because the mechanics pretty much said he had to, so I guess that was pretty badass. It just wasn't logical at all, even by Stathamesque standards..

Another part of the problem was that none of us really figured out how to use the pool of team dice until fairly close to the end of the game (and following two PC deaths/replacements). Once we did, we could see how we could've worked the system for our advantage. Which seemed weird, honestly -- it felt like an exploit, but it's apparently how it's supposed to be run, so... I dunno. I'm chalking it up to a miscommunication born largely of an unfamiliarity with the rules. I'd like to try it again and see how it shakes out.

Then I went back to the room and prepped for Dungeon World until, like, 3:30 am. Oof.

Sunday 9:00
So needless to say, I was a little tired for Dungeon World, but at least I was prepared. Fortunately, Hamish was one of the players (campaigning subtly but strongly to replace Morgan as my longtime convention companion), so I could bounce rulesy-type stuff off of him when I had to. Turns out I didn't have to very much, so that was good.

As you may know, reader, I like hacking indie games for D&D. Of course, Dungeon World is already that, so I thought I'd try using it to run a classic AD&D module: "Dwellers of the Forbidden City." I'd owned it for a while (I went through an old-module hunting frenzy on eBay last year) but never actually read it. I picked it to run based primarily on its name and its probable cachet among fans of the Old School. Turns out it was a good pick. It's a fantastic sandbox of a module, a bit comparable to "Keep on the Borderlands" but more intense. There's plenty of adventure fodder there for several future one-shots, should it come to that (and it may!). If you're a fan of that kind of thing but don't know "Dwellers," check it out.

In addition to Hamish, my players were Sam Carter, Megan McDonald, and Caoimhe Snow. Hamish was arguably the focus, though, as a cleric of Lunderal, God of Suffering (which may explain why his name sounds like a prescription medication -- seriously, as your doctor about Lunderal and see what he says). He was a total masochist who death-wrestled his way into being chief of the local mongrelman community, and was later killed under some falling temple-related debris and sent back to the Prime Material, barely alive and sans eyes. His eyes are now two never-healing pits that are a constant source of agony, just the way he likes it. Hamish is determined to play him again. Fair enough, says I.

We used highlighted stats for XP, but I also had them mark XP whenever they roleplayed to their bonds. (In Hamish's game the day before, BTW, he awarded XP for monsters, like, five or 10 at a time, which seemed kinda crazy to me, but I wasn't going to complain, because hey, 3rd level.) I'd like to figure out a way to give out XP for treasure, to really harken back to the old-school style, but I need to give it a little more thought to come up with something I like.

In the interest of time, I cut the final encounter a little short, but we still managed to get an animated temple, a Thing From Beyond, and dark ritual in there, so it was all good. I'm really digging the mechanics and everything else DW brings to the table. I just wish I had more opportunities to play and/or run it. (More on that later.)

Sunday 2:00
Andy and I had been talking for weeks about his new Lady Blackbird hack, Lady Silver Age Avengers Bird. (Apparently, he doesn't have this online yet that I can see, which is a pity, but we'll fix that soon enough.) I played Captain America in as to-the-hilt a manner as possible, and had a great time.

Back at Hyphen-Con, when Andy ran Operation: Blackbird, I was a bit modest and reticent when it came to traits and tags and XP, but not this time, man. I worked it. I was rolling in XP most of the time. The awesome thing about Lady Blackbird's system is that doing so doesn't break anything. It just encourages you to play in character as much as possible.

Andy introduced some cool mechanical bits to enforce the Silver Age genre a little more, like regaining personal dice by monologuing, flashing back, or voicing an unnecessary thought bubble. The game definitely had the right Silver Age feel, and I'd totally play this again. It makes me want to finish that Lady Blackmoor hack I started.

Sunday 8:00Colin's Bulldogs! game. I already recapped this one here.

Sunday Late
The Bulldogs! game got out an hour early, so I was all set to just go home, but then Colin walked by and asked if I was going to swing by BarCon, so I was like, "Yeah, I'll see you up there." Ten minutes to say hi and g'bye and I'd be out. So I went up there.

An hour later, I left. What kept me so long? Mostly Colin's crazy idea to do a persistent "living" DW campaign at OrcCon. The idea is this: We get enough DW GMs to run a game every slot, then we connect all those games into a single shared setting. After every session, we confab and figure out what's changed in the world as a result of the players' actions, and that informs the session's worth of games. And so on throughout the weekend. We'd do all the games in the same room, and have a bulletin board or something to track stuff like who has a bounty on their head and who's had an epic poem written about them and all kinds of other stuff. And there'd be some sort of fame that'd also be tracked on that board -- everyone would be able to see how renowned everyone else is. "When you enter a new city, roll+Renown." That sort of thing.

It'd be super-complicated, especially the way I see it being done (i.e., in a super-complicated manner), and we'd need probably two or three more GMs, IMO, but if it can be pulled off, it'd be pretty awesome. I did voice a concern to Colin, though, that if it worked it'd be so cool that we'd want to do it every time, which would mean I'd never run anything but DW for the forseeable future.

"I'm thinking that's what I'm going to be doing anyway," he answered. Can't argue with that.

Best game of the con?
Tough one. I really had a great time with the DW games and Lady Silver Age Aaengers Bird. Not really fair to have a three-way tie, but I'm not sure I can choose, even with three weeks' distance.

Worst game of the con?
Oh, By The Gods!, without question. I mean, it was a valuable playtest, as I said, but in this case "valuable" didn't translate to "fun." If I'd run it with the rules I used today, though, it would've been a blast. Mark my words.

Regardless, some great gaming overall. Already looking forward to OrcCon, crazy living DW campaign or no.

On a somewhat related note, Nerdly Beach Party was this weekend; I missed it, as I always do. I'm just not into camping or long drives enough to get in on that. But I'm regretting that this weekend, because Colin and Hamish apparently flooded that thing with DW games. Looking forward to hearing their after-con reports.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Flash Game Design Challenge: Nerdball

Wow! Has it been well over a month since I posted something here? That's crazy. Sorry about that, folks. Ironically, I've been doing plenty -- I just haven't been talking about it. Have to change that.

So last Friday, Ryan Macklin announced a "flash" game design challenge, in the style of Chuck Wendig's regular flash fiction challenges on Terrible Minds. Write a playable game in 500 words or less! I like it.

The deadline's tomorrow (Friday the 23rd). I immediately had the impulse to do something for it, but I had no idea what and didn't really end up giving it much thought until yesterday.

See, earlier this week, UC Irvine reclaimed the Guinness world record title of Largest Dodgeball Game, with 4,488 players. (I'm a UCI alum, so you can suck it, previous record-holder Rochester Institute of Technology. You don't even get a link!) I was out at dinner last night and saw a UCI student wearing a T-shirt from the event, and something clicked.

The result is this: Nerdball. Players take on the roles (at least initially) of some junior-high nerds forced to play dodgeball in PE class. The opposing team is composed largely, if not wholly, of jocks, cool kids, bullies, and other classmates who make the nerds' lives fairly miserable. Over the course of the game, as your nerd colleagues are picked off one by one, you'll reveal your history with your nemesis, a bully on the other team. You may even end up playing a bully -- in fact, it may shake out that all the players but one end up playing bullies before the game's over. I'd even call it the ideal end to the game to have your fellow players turn on you and, in game terms, pelt you into submission with dodgeballs.

I really like the ingredients for this one, largely because one involved a dice mechanic, and I always enjoy engaging that sort of limitation. Chalk this up as another in a line of recent contest-derived games (with Action City! and Globe Records) that seem playable enough, but at which I'd probably be terrible.

But I'm sure you'd be great at it! Play and enjoy, and if it seems a little sparse, remember -- 500 words. Me culpa.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Game Chef: Winners Announced!

Congratulations to the winners of this year's Game Chef! They are:

All's Well That Ends As You Like It, by Jennifer Hardy and Matthew Mazurek
Forsooth!, by Sam Liberty and Kevin Spak

("Sam Liberty" is pretty obviously a superhero's mundane secret identity, right?)

Master Chef Jonathan Walton and Professor Walton had some great feedback on Globe Records -- much appreciated! Looking forward to next year, and somehow having more time to do it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Game Chef: Finals!

Hey, Globe Records made the finals for Game Chef 2011! And there are only six of us (out of 66), which is kinda crazy.

The other five finalists are:

  • Daughters of Exile by Steve Darlington
    Your Father wishes you to marry. You wish to decide for yourself. Cut a path between duty, love and rebellion.
  • All’s Well That Ends as You Like It
    by Jennifer Hardy & Matthew Mazurek

    Dueling, wooing, vows kept or forsworn, drunkenness, thievery, costumes, identical twins, rightful rulers, virtuous innocents, ghosts, and much more.
  • Forsooth! by Sam Liberty & Kevin Spak
    Players each control a small cast of characters to improvise a play of Shakespearean scope without a GM or storyteller.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Scheme
    by Nat Barmore (woodelf) w/ Caitlin Doran

    Exiled faeries compete to prank mortals they care for, in order to regain favor at the Summer Court.
  • The Lost Years by Matthew Nielsen
    A Game of Shakespeare and time travel. Characters cast out of the Bard’s plays must choose between their mission and their personal desires.
Congrats to my fellow finalists! It's an honor to be counted among you. I look forward to one of you being declared the winner at GenCon!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Game Chef: Peer Review!

So! Part of Game Chef this year is a peer-review process, which I like. Everyone's assigned four games to read and comment on, and then recommend one of them to advance on to the next stage, which I believe is just straight-up judging, judged by judges.

I'm going to do my peer reviewing here so I can have it all in one place and not worry about being long-winded, in case it goes that way. I'm also going to try to segment my reviews in terms of how well each game addresses the theme (Shakespeare) and makes use of the ingredients (Daughter, Forsworn, Exile, Nature), as well as things I like and things about which I am not sure. Wish me luck in sticking to this plan! There will be many parentheticals, apparently!

A Midsummer Night's Scheme
Nat Barmore (with help from Caitlin Doran, whose idea it was in the first place)

What do I like? I like that this seems to be (or could be) a secondary side play happening concurrently with Midsummer Night's Dream. Nat (perhaps assisted by Caitlin!) gives a good overview of how he (or she -- could be a Natalie) sees faeries in this context, which makes for some useful roleplaying advice for the players. The faerie abilities are distinct from one another and cover just about anything I could think of a faerie doing in this context, which is good. I appreciate how what the players are doing and what the characters are doing are very similar, in that everyone's playing a game with a definite win condition. The stakes are obviously higher for the characters, but whatever -- I like the unity between in-character and out-of-character mindsets.

What am I not sure about? For what we're doing in this game, it seems awfully crunchy. You have your six stats, and Nature, and your mortal connection, which strikes me as a lot for a game about pranking faeries. I'm not sure how much better one faerie is than another in terms of, say, shapechanging should be all that important here. I'd think other factors, ones more relevant to the story or the faeries' personalities or emotions, would be more significant here. The dice mechanics look solid, but again, they seem a little involved for what's going on. And look, I like mechanics more than the next guy. I'm just saying that here, for me it's a bit of a disconnect. This also feels like the kind of game where narrative control should be shared more with the players. Instead of the SG framing every scene and (apparently) completely controlling everything in a rather traditional-GM way, it might be nice to let, say, players frame scenes, at the very least.

Is the theme well-addressed? For sure --  it's all pretty much out of a single play, but that play's also one of the most famous in Shakespeare's catalog.

Are the ingredients well-used? Nature, Forsworn, and Exile are all there. The whole game sorta revolves around your faerie's relationship with Nature (fighting against it or going with it), "forswearing" is a stakes-raising option (albeit one that seems a little easy to exploit), and Exile is the result of losing the Faerie Sovereigns' game.

Overall: I could see playing this. It's a little undefined around the edges, and that forswearing thing needs more attention, but given more than 10 days' work I'm sure these wouldn't be a problem.

Genesis Undone
Jim Ryan

What do I like? I like that picking my Role and Nature makes me think of Doctor Who, like I'm making a Time Lord. "Trust me, I'm the Savant!" It fits the whole epic nature of coming up with the First Race and the First City (which I kinda can't imagine being anything but a city floating in space, for some reason). I like the way players help define each others' characters, and the way character creation mandates some intra-party conflict.

What am I not sure about? I wish more of the character creation process were dealt with in picking a Role and a Nature. There's potential there, but Role and Nature seem to have no mechanical effect. I'm also not sure why revealing one's Nature should matter at all. For one thing, it seems like something I oughtta be roleplaying all along. If I'm the Bully, then I'm going to Bully. It should be fairly obvious what I am. Nowhere in the game does it seem to be a goal for the players to guess one another's Nature, but for some reason when my Nature's revealed (via a mechanic that doesn't seem to interface in any other way with Role or Nature), I'm at a disadvantage? I don't get it. As it is, it feels very tacked-on to me -- the fiction doesn't adequately explain why "whomever sees your Nature knows your weakness." Likewise, whether or not you've chosen to forswear the First Sin -- something that's pretty central to the backstory of the First Race and the First City -- simply doesn't matter, in the grand scheme of things. It reminds me of alignment in 4E D&D, except that it really seems like it ought to be much more significant here. Surely one's stance on the thing that should be as central to one's identity as Role or Nature. If anything, it's your stance on the First Sin that should be the thing you hide. That's your real weakness.

A few things about structure: For a game this short, the set-up strikes me as awfully long. While most of chargen is pretty focused, I think the last step, "Discuss," leaves too much up to chance. I wish "what they mean to each other" were more than backstory and window-dressing. There's a lot of players collectively making important decisions, like what the First Race, Sin, and City are, with little in the way of guidance from the text. Conversely, proscribing what each of the five Acts should contain feels very forced. I'd rather see mechanical incentives to have things proceed in one way or another than just being told what I should be doing. It puts too much in the hands of the players to figure everything out.

Is the theme well-addressed? Apart from the Acts and Soliloquies, I don't get much of a Shakespearean vibe off of this.

Are the ingredients well-used? Nature, Forsworn, and Exile are used to varying degrees. Nature is most important, "forswearing" the First Sin is pure color, and Exile is something that's happened before the game begins. 

Overall: There are a lot of interesting ideas here, but I think it needs more work before it'd feel playable.

The Lost Years
Matthew Nielsen

What do I like? There's a lot. I love the premise, especially how it lampshades time-travel concerns by providing a good reason for keeping the PCs in the dark. Faeries as far-future time-traveling humans is bizarre, but Matthew manages to make it seem strangely logical. Making use of Shakespeare's "apocrypha" is a great idea, too. Turning Comedy, Tragedy, and History into character stats is a stroke of genius. The dice mechanic is familiar, but it's also simple and intuitive, so I have no objections. Being able to spend style points to edit minor details (anything that hasn't been nailed down) and then act in character to regain those points is a great idea. 

What am I not sure about? I feel like the role of the antagonists, including who they are and what they do, is much more obvious to the author than it is to me. There's advice in the last page or so, but I'm not immediately filled with ideas. Even a few examples of possible plots against Shakespeare would help a lot, or some examples of "events that could change Shakespeare's perspective on the world." 

Is the theme well-addressed? You're obscure or non-existent or alternate-universe Shakespeare characters in Elizabethan England trying to save your creator's life at the behest of a bunch of faeries. Yeah, there's a lot of Shakespeare in there.

Are the ingredients well-used? Nothing's explicit, but I can pick them out. The faeries hang out in natural environments like forests. The PCs are all exiled from their native plays, and forsworn to protect Shakespeare. They're all well-integrated.

Overall: Given a group of players, I'd give this a shot just as soon as I thought of a decent plot against Shakespeare. Great job.

An Improbable Fiction
Ashley Griffiths, John Keyworth, & Barbara Croker

What do I like? I like the incorporation of the sonnets. Of the games I've read that directly invoke Shakespeare, this is the only one that doesn't rely solely on the plays. The Dramatic Elements and cards are a great way to get the story going and get everyone on the same page without a lot of kibitzing among the players. I like putting a token into each other player's bag, thus influencing their temperament down the line. 

What am I not sure about? I'll be honest: Much of this game is either confusing or awkward to me. The process of picking a sonnet for your character is nice and flavorful, but it also seems like it might take forever. There are portions that could definitely be edited for clarity. For example, each player has his own bag of 10 tokens, but the wording in the paragraph explaining how to determine one's starting temperament seems to imply that everyone's drawing tokens out of the same bag. (Not that it really matters, if the tokens are to be replenished between each draw -- although I think it'd be more interesting if they weren't.) When I put a token into someone else's bag, does it come from my own bag or from somewhere else? And I've read the section on Acts a few times now, but I'm still not sure how it's supposed to work. All I know is that it feels too confining to me, especially when it says that I "should be playing towards a grand ending" in the last act. It seems to me that this could be tied in better with the Dramatic Elements cards somehow.

Is the theme well-addressed? Oh yeah. Your character is a sonnet, for God's sake.

Are the ingredients well-used? All four ingredients appear as Dramatic Elements, although if you don't draw them, they won't feature in your game. Arguably, your sonnet could be your "nature," if you choose to see it that way.

Overall: I don't entirely get it, but I also recognize that I'm not the target demographic. It'd hang together well for gamers of a more theatrical bent.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Game Chef: Yeah, Finished.

All right. For those who want to check out Globe Records, it's available online.

Oh -- I want to stress again that I am not a graphic artist. Please excuse the... graphic art.

Game Chef: Finished?

Thanks to an hour or so of downtime in the Sails Pavilion at Comic-Con yesterday, I was able to finish Globe Records this morning. I think. I'm not going to post it just yet. The Game Chef deadline isn't until tomorrow morning, so I'm going to let it sit for the day and take a look at it sometime tonight. We'll see if it still seems "finished" then.

I'm pretty pleased with it, though, plus I have about 500 words to spare, so that's pretty good. I guess I can consider that buffer to be filled by the words on the character sheets, though, just to be fair. Somehow, I managed to make those 2,500 words 15 pages long.

Incidentally, I wrote this game using LibreOffice, which is by no means a viable replacement for Microsoft Word. LibreOffice isn't so much a word processor as a word platformer. Just about everything I did in it felt like a challenge. Boo.

Anyway. Back to Comic-Con for one last day!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Game Chef: Gettin' There

Seriously, this is the worst game-designing time of the year. Even with nothing else hanging over my head, Comic-Con always takes it out of me. Then there's FATE Kerberos demanding my attention, along with a few other non-game-related commitments. Look, I realize these are first-world geek problems, but still. Bear with me.

Anyway, one good thing about Comic-Con colliding with Game Chef is that standing in line for panels gives me a chance to take notes (by hand, with a pencil, on paper -- barbaric!) on this here game of mine. I'm pretty confident I can get it put together tomorrow and sent out Sunday night sometime. The mechanics have been tightened up, streamlined, and re-focused on creating good stories. In my early enthusiasm for a game in progress, I find I often have a hard time separating "fun and meaningful mechanics" from just "fun and random mechanics," but today the distinctions became clearer, and I think it shows in the design. Maybe there's something about being surrounded by people dressed in Venture Brothers costumes -- I can't say.

So I thought I'd post a little something to prove that, yes, progress is being made. Keeping in mind that I'm not a graphic designer-type person at all, here's the game's '90s-looking logo:

And here's the character sheet for Richard III Rick Rose, CEO of Globe Records, who may or may not have inherited the position from his brother under, uh, "questionable circumstances."

Some new things there, if you've been reading my last couple posts. A big circle! Only one Nature! A card suit! What could it all mean? Well, I think it's pretty easy to work out, but that's what the game's text is for. So far I have a solid... 293 words, give or take. Even after I start copy-pasting stuff in from my notes, I'm pretty confident that I won't come especially close to 3,000 words. It's a pretty straightforward game.

(But that's what everyone thinks of their games, right?)

Oh, weird thing to mention: Today (Saturday the 23rd) at noon, I'm going to be on a panel on game design -- at least, I hope it's on game design, or something else I can easily fake my way through -- at Gam3r-Con, a small but ambitious game convention that's running parallel to Comic-Con. If you're around, come check it out. Let's discover what I might have to say together, shall we?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Game Chef: Hmm... Needs More People

Hey, I think I might actually finish this thing. It's essentially done: All the characters have all their bits (with, like, one or two exceptions), the un-playtested rules look solid and fun, I have 12 soap-opera storylines broken down into their three stages of development... it's surprising how far it's come.

But one thing I've noticed is that even with six characters, it feels a little sparsely populated for a soap. These are all primary cast; they need some supporting cast, too. So each character now has three Supporting Cast. One's already filled in, but the other two are left blank for the player to define during play. You don't even have to fill them both in if you don't want to.

I'm not entirely sure what mechanical purpose they'd serve, but I'm inclined to treat them just like Vows, Natures, and Modes. Each starts rated at 1, and etc. Instead of picking one Vow, one Nature, and one Mode, you'd pick one entry from each category. Sometimes that Supporting Cast will be relevant; often they won't.

For example, Dane Prince's initial Supporting Cast is his band, Sea of Troubles (comprised of Simon Catling, Hugh Rebeck, and James Soundpost, three musicians from Romeo and Juliet). When they're helping the situation -- say, if they're trying to impress a producer at a gig -- Dane's player can use them to draw a card. When they're a problem -- say, if he's trying to impress a producer at an industry party, and they're being idiots -- his player can choose to fail the contest in exchange for increasing their rating by one.

Which reminds me: There needs to be a good way to get those ratings down. I'm thinking you can burn points to draw additional cards at a 1:1 ratio. But none of these things (whatever they're called) can be lowered below one. That all seems reasonable. You'll burn them when you're desperate. And then maybe you can regain one point in one of them during a commercial break. Sure, let's do that.

See, this is what my game-design notes look like -- me talking to myself.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Game Chef: Globe Records

So! My idea for this year's Game Chef is a bunch of characters from Shakespeare's plays thrown together in the milieu of a hip record label (Globe Records) in the early '90s. Here are some of my notes (posted earlier on The Forge, in case you saw them there).

We have:
  • Rick, head of the label: A schemer to the core, Rick didn’t get where he is today without pissing a few people off. His office is at the top of the label’s towering office building in LA. He has a wife (name pending), but is having an affair with Lady MC, the label’s biggest recording artist and Othello’s sister.
  • Lady MC, talent: A hip-hop star having an affair with Rick and, by extension, manipulating Globe Records. Specifically, she’s trying to ensure that she isn’t shown up by Juliet. But she doesn’t want the label to drop her altogether -- as long as she’s with Globe, Lady can control her career.
  • Juliet, talent: A rising star on her second marriage. She married her first husband (Othello’s brother Romeo) when she was just a teenager, and his death shortly thereafter sent her into a tailspin. Othello was there to catch her. At first she was grateful; these days, she can’t help feeling like being with him might be holding her back.
  • Othello, recording engineer: Handsome, kind, strong -- that guy. Afraid his wife Juliet is cheating on him. Talented singer-songwriter, but he’s seen what being in the spotlight has done to her and doesn’t want any part of that. He’s plays acoustic guitar at coffee houses to sparse but appreciative patrons.
  • Portia, record producer: Woman trying to make it in a man’s world. Power suit, shoulder pads, the whole nine yards. Nursing a crush on Othello, and trying to convince him to sign with her as a recording artist. Also, she’s Rick’s daughter, though he doesn’t show her favoritism. They... don’t have a great relationship.
  • Dane Prince, talent: Moody lead singer of Sea of Troubles, a grunge band signed with Globe. Attracted to Juliet, but has a bad history where relationships are concerned. Othello’s best friend.
Everyone has Vows, Natures, and Modes. Vows are motivations -- things you’re forsworn to do. Natures are beliefs and personality traits -- things that make you you. Modes are how you feel at any given time; everyone has three to choose from (unique to the character). Natures and Modes are pre-set for each character; each character’s Vows are defined before play by the player.

These things have ratings, starting at 1. When you do something, you pick a Vow, Nature, and Mode appropriate to the situation. Combine their ratings, and draw that many cards, less any cards already in hand (so if you have a card in hand and the total of your ratings is three, you only draw two cards). Each player in a conflict (usually only two) plays a single card. High card wins narration rights. The players swap the cards they played. The swapped card you receive stays in your hand; discard the rest.

Vows, Natures, and Modes are potentially problematic. Every time you make one of those create a problem for you -- something like an automatic “I lose, because I’m so Angry” -- instead of playing a card, increase the rating of the Vow, Nature, or Mode by 1. You don’t get the other player’s card; it’s discarded instead.

I’d like for the suit to matter somehow, but I’m not sure how just yet. Maybe assign a suit to each Mode, and if the suit of the card you play matches your Mode you trump? Sure, why not.

Take a standard deck of playing cards and remove the face cards (Jacks, Queens, Kings). The remaining cards -- A through 9 in four suits -- are used by the players during play for all that card-drawing jazz. The face cards are used to randomly determine the storylines for the episode. Each episode has three storylines, each in one of three different stages of resolution when play begins. The further along the storyline, the more people it involves. A new storyline involves only two characters, an ongoing storyline involves three, and a concluding storyline involves four. (There can be overlap between these groups.) The first player draws a face card to determine the new storyline for their character, then picks one other player to be involved. That player decides how the two characters are involved in the storyline, then draws a card for their ongoing storyline and picks two other players. Each of those players decides how one of the other three characters is involved. A player who hasn’t drawn a storyline card does so for their concluding storyline, and chooses three other players to share it with them, and each of those players decides how one other character is involved.

Every player writes down a Vow for each storyline they have. This must be a statement using the phrase “I must” or “I can’t” that relates to the storyline and includes one other character in it. For example, Othello’s player draws Amnesia for his new storyline, and chooses to involve Dane in it. Dane’s player decides that Othello  partially lost his memory as a result of a car accident, but right before that he caught Dane with Juliet. Now, he doesn’t remember it. Dane’s helping him cover and recover out of guilt. Othello’s player writes down “I must regain my memory.” Dane’s player writes “I can’t let Othello know about Juliet and me.”

An episode has four commercial breaks. In between these, each player takes a turn framing a scene relevant to one of their storylines. After one commercial break, a new storyline becomes ongoing. After three commercial breaks, an ongoing storyline becomes concluding. After two commercial breaks, a concluding storyline ends; draw a new storyline and dovetail it into that one. So each of the 12 storylines needs a breakdown of where they are at each stage. That should be... okay. Manageable, anyway.

The game ends when the episode ends.


I may need to rework the pacing of the storylines and the three stages of development, but other than that I really think the mechanical end of things is pretty solid. It's partially inspired by an idea I had a while ago for escalating aspects in FATE.

I've started to do the storyline breakdowns (about halfway done there -- I need a few more ideas for soap opera tropes) and the characters. Three of each trait -- Vow, Nature, and Mode -- seems about right. I mean, it's possible that a character may not be involved in three storylines, in which case they'd only have two Vows, but I'm going to set Natures and Modes at three each. The Natures are turning out to be statements or beliefs more than personality traits, which really makes each character distinctive. I like that. And the Modes look like they'll be fun to come up with. Othello's, for example, are Protective, Compassionate, and Shirtless.

Having the specifics of the storylines determined by a mix of random card-drawing and the players themselves should help keep the word count low. If I can just find the time to do this thing over the next week (questionable), I think I'll have something pretty fun and workable on my hands.

Not married to that name, but... it's good enough for now. If anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Game Chef 2011: A Game Designer Is You!

Game Chef 2011 starts July 15th! Stay alert! Trust no one! Keep your dice handy!

The timing on this is awesome, because it ends the Monday after Comic-Con. So there'll be a good chance I won't finish on time, but at least it'll give me something to talk about at Gam3rCon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dangers & Dragons: Download It!

After much delay, brought on by nothing in particular, my D&D-ish hack of Danger Patrol is finally available for download. You'll need Danger Patrol to play, though; I converted everything I wanted to convert, but I didn't go through the effort of rewriting the whole thing, so the zip file doesn't have, for example, a list of Threat Moves, which is something you're going to want to have.

Also, on the advice of counsel, it's now called Dangers & Dragons. Let the word go forth!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sigils and Traveller

As I've enthused elsewhere on the Internet, I recently picked up the original three Traveller LBBs at my FLGS for six bucks inclusive, and it's been a real psionic blast from the past. I have a lot of nostalgia for Traveller, but in all honest I don't think I ever actually played it. I didn't have a lot of people to play with back in 1980 or whatever, and my little group in elementary school was mostly about D&D and Tunnels & Trolls, with Top Secret added sometime in junior high. By then, I think Traveller was mostly forgotten, although we did squeeze in a little Star Frontiers, so it's not like sci-fi or space opera was totally unappealing to us. (How could it be? We're the Star Wars generation, man.)

At any rate, the thing I do remember doing with Traveller was rolling up characters. Like the AD&D DMG, those Traveller books weren't written for my demographic -- but unlike Gygax's work, Traveller's text was almost as hard as its sci-fi: dry and didactic. Gygax loved fancy words, and my vocabulary expanded quite a bit with AD&D, but Traveller's more... impersonal. Like, "Let's just get through this so you can play." The charm is in the content, not the presentation.

So as I rolled up characters the other night -- some of whom, yes, died in chargen, but nobody ever said exploring with the Scouts was going to be easy -- I recalled a recent couple threads on about doing a fantasy version of Traveller. This, of course, is right up my alley. So I looked around, found Adventurer and Mercator, and found that they had things pretty well in hand. But it also occurred to me that in terms of the thing I love so much about Traveller -- the random chargen -- Sigils is, like, 80% there. It's all about the random chargen. Instead of doing another fantasy Traveller, I'm Travellering up Sigils.

Looking at what I have now, I'm keeping the Cultures, but I'm divorcing them from the Backgrounds. It used to be that the only way to have a Background as, say, a Sorcerer was to come from the Decadent South. No more. Now the Backgrounds are in six categories -- Authority, Commerce, Crime, Learning, War, and Wild -- each of which contains four Backgrounds. Three of these can be chosen at will; the fourth has a pre-requisite, like a stat minimum or previous Backgrounds. (This is analogous to how Traveller keeps certain skills requiring advanced training behind a wall of elitism.) Each category also requires a 2d6 roll to access it. If you don't beat the target number, you can't get in, but you can roll for something else. If you don't beat the target number on that roll, well... I'll get to that in a bit.

Your Culture affects your chances of opening these categories. If you're from the Frozen North, for example, it's a lot easier for you to go into War than Learning, just as it's easier for someone from a Great City to go into Commerce instead of the Wild. It's not that you can't have those Backgrounds -- it's just that it doesn't come easily to you, and you may not find the opportunity in life to become a scholar or a shaman or get into a guild or what have you.

Assuming you beat the category's target number, you choose the Background, but you roll 1d6 for the Specialty it gives you, just as in Traveller. (Hey, it ain't broke.) Different Backgrounds within the same category are thematically related, but give you different odds for getting a particular Specialty. For example, if you want a fighter-type who's very focused on weapon skills, go for Soldier over Mercenary. Soldiers are more focused on that sort of thing, whereas the wandering life of a Mercenary gives you a potentially broader skillset. Almost all the Backgrounds only dole out Specialties, but some can give you a Resource, such as a Wealth Level or a Contact Level. The "elite" Background in each category almost always does this, sometimes two such Resources at a time.

All of this occurs in five phases; each phase you roll for a Background (or roll for a second, if you don't get the first, or...), and give yourself an aspect. If you succeed at your first-choice category, the aspect is a Quality -- a favorable aspect. If you fail to enter that category, you get a Challenge instead, or an aspect that is almost totally "negative" in nature: a weakness, a personal failing, an enemy, or the like. Both Qualities and Challenges can be invoked and compelled. They only differ in terms of the Challenge's enforced unfavorable flavor. Of course, you don't have to go a full five phases -- you can leave a couple aspect slots blank, and fill them in later, but that also means you start with fewer Specialties and Resources. Why on Yrth would you do that, you ask?

As alluded to earlier, probably the most famous bit of old-school Traveller chargen was the possibility of dying during it. I'm not going quite that far, but I'm keeping the vibe. Death-by-chargen isn't just cruel -- it serves a purpose. In Traveller, two things discourage you from going a full eight terms and racking up a ton of skills and other benefits: age-dependent stat degradations, which get worse the older you get, and the risk of dying during a term of service. I'm not so concerned about age. Sword-and-sorcery characters are old or young as the story demands. If you roll up a guy with a low Strength and Coordination, feel free to say he's old -- or weak and clumsy. Whatever. No, there has to be an analogue for dying, a potential consequence for constantly testing your luck in the world and starting out with a more experienced character, and that analogue is Servitude.

If you fail two Background checks in a single phase, you end up in Servitude for that phase. You're captured by slavers, or arrested on charges real or falsified, or forced into indentured service, or overthrown by your social inferiors and made to work the mines. You figure it out.

Being in Servitude sucks. You roll for your Specialty, just as you would with any other Background, but odds are good -- one in two -- that you won't like the result. Sure, there's a chance your enslavement could make you stronger or slightly more worldly, but it's just as likely that you'll emerge from it penniless and broken. In fact, you could end up so broken that you aren't fit for a life of adventure, in which case you roll up a new guy. That's right. You aren't dead, per se, but you wish you were.

What are the odds of this happening? Pretty low. First, you have to fail two Background checks, then you have a one-in-six chance of getting a -1 to your Willpower. If your Willpower is reduced to zero, you've lost your ambition, hope, thirst for vengeance, or whatever it is that drives you. You have to keep ending up in Servitude (getting out requires a roll, as opposed to rolling to get in) and keep rolling that result. All that considered, this probably will not happen to your character.

But it could.

I've only rolled up a few characters using this method, but right off the bat the results indicate much more in terms of backstory and personality than the old method did. I'm very pleased with it. Yeah, it's a little more rolling, but it's also much more interesting, so that's a fair trade-off in my mind. When I have it in better shape, I'll update the PDF and post it. I've gotten some interest in it lately, so I know at least a few people out there will care about that.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Gamex 2011 Wrap-Up

(This covers the non-FATE games, which was almost all of them; for FATE coverage, see Spirit of the Blank.)

A week late -- typical! -- but here's the stink from last weekend at Gamex.

Friday Afternoon
I'd been hearing a bit here and there about Vicious Crucible, one of (apparently) a couple new games from Josh Roby and Ryan Macklin, so when I saw it on the schedule I knew I'd be signing up for it. I knew nothing of the system, other than it sounded like it was intended to drive a number of specific scenarios, or at least use them as introductions to various mechanical add-ons the like. The scenario we played was The Vicious Crucible of Verdigris Valley, and essentially involved a long-simmering dust-up between European-style imperialists and native barbarian-types in a fantasy-medievalish world. (There was magic, and some monstrous things, but those things were mostly there to exacerbate the political situation.) I played a half-breed scout who'd been ostracized from the barbarian-types by her own grandfather (another PC) and forced to seek some sort of community with the invaders. I chose to style myself as a "double breed." It's all about spin.

Every character has an Arc, with three thingies listed under it: The first encourages you to follow that arc with a mechanical incentive, the second encourages you to make a sort of character-defining decision (again with a mechanical payoff), and the third gives you a way out of the Arc altogether by finding your way into a new one. At least, that's how it looked from my perspective. I got Heat (the game's currency) for trying to fit in somewhere, could spend Heat and unlock a new character ability to irrevocably reject a place or people as my home, and could move on to a new Arc by deciding that I'd found my home and wasn't an outsider anymore.

If you've played just about any indie game from the past five or ten years, the mechanics of Vicious Crucible will not be difficult to grasp. (I mean this in the most complimentary way possible.) Dice-wise, it reminds me a bit of both Dogs in the Vineyard and ORE. Every round you roll three dice, one for each of three of your Elements. These can be from d4s to d8s. If the Element is helpful, it gives you a d8. If it's a hindrance, it gives you a d4, and every d4 you roll gets you a point of Heat. Otherwise, it's a d6. Low roller goes first and narrates an action, and high roller goes last. Whoever goes last essentially has the last word. In essence, there's no rolling for success or failure -- it's all about getting to be the last one to narrate.

(Why ORE? I dunno. I guess because the roll tells you both who did "well" within the context of the game and gives you an initiative order.)

I had fun, and found the system straightforward and easy to grasp. The Arc mechanic more or less forces you to get in character to earn Heat, which is a good thing, although some Arcs generated Heat more easily than others. (One character got Heat whenever he blamed someone for his brother's death; another, when she acted suspicious of the native-types. In comparison, my trying-to-fit-in bit was often a bit harder to reasonably pull off.) I like the way the dice mechanic creates beats organically.

Friday Night
A couple friends came over to my hotel room and we played our second session of "The Keep on the Borderlands" using Dark Dungeons, the unfortunately named but otherwise-excellent D&D Rules Cyclopedia clone. I highly recommend Dark Dungeons for all your Rules Cyclopedia-replacing needs, not just because it's inexpensive and well-executed, but because it further sticks it to Jack Chick, Santorum-style.

Anyway, a while ago a friend of mine said he'd like to try D&D, and that he could probably get a group together of like-minded tabletop RPG virgins. I jumped at the opportunity, as any sane gamer would, and a few months later we had our first session. Initially I'd planned to use the D&D 4E Essentials line, but after a while I decided that even that level of complexity might be a little too much, despite my players' extensive experience with MMOs and computer games born of D&D's influence. I don't know if I was right about that, but I've been having a God-damned ball running KotB, so no regrets here.

Anyway, in the first session, I ginned up some excuse for them to head off to the Caves of Chaos and fight some kobolds, which they did -- a little combat to satisfy the "kill them and take their stuff" vibe of old-school D&D -- but the second session was all about investigation and talking, with very little in the way of combat. To my surprise and delight, they preferred the second session, which is very cool. In general, they like doing anything that they couldn't do in a computer game, including doing stupid things and getting beaten down for it. They quickly picked up on the fact that anything can happen in a tabletop RPG, and they've been going with it. One of them compared it to a game of Scott Aukerman-style Would You Rather?, and in a lot of respects, he's right -- at least, when it comes to old-school gaming. The more questions they ask, the more they know about their environment. Unlike Scott Aukerman, though, I'm not going to screw them over for failing to correctly pixel-bitch their way to a solution.

After we wrapped up at about 11:30, I took them over to the Sheraton so they could get a glimpse of the convention's late-night goings-on. It's just a whole new world to them. Good times, and well worth missing that Friday night slot at Gamex to do.

Saturday Morning
Morgan's DFRPG game! Read about it here!

Saturday Afternoon
I've had a couple near-misses with Dungeon Crawl Classics, Goodman Games' table-filled, retro-fueled take on 3.5 D&D, so I was resolved to finally check it out. I'd been to a couple other mini-cons -- one at DiceHouse, the other Hyphen-Con -- where Joe Goodman had been either running it at the neighboring table or inexplicably not running it and playing boardgames instead. It was only a matter of time before I weaseled my way into a seat at his table, and Gamex was that time.

Here's what I like about DCC. There are lots of tables for things -- critical hits, fumbles, spellcasting, etc. Just about every class seems to have its own little subsystems or rules exceptions. Characters are relatively fragile. Magic is unpredictable. These things are all likely to turn off the majority of gamers I know. They'd turn me off, too, on a bad day, but last weekend had no bad days, so there.

What I'm getting at is that DCC revels in clunky, piecemeal, un-unified mechanics that seem as if they were written by a dozen designers over the course of a decade. But, like, that's the point. Later, I'll talk about Dungeon World, and its goal to replicate an old-school feel using new-school mechanics and sensibilities. Having just run a D&D module originally published during the Carter administration the night before, I feel confident in saying that DCC nails the old-school thing not by cleverly re-imagining it, which DW does, but by embracing it, warts and all. In fact, I think it might embrace the warts the most.

This takes balls, if you ask me. There's a definite learning curve to this game. Playing a thief won't really give you an idea of what it's like to play a wizard. In fact, playing a cleric won't do that, either, because they cast spells differently. The open playtest goes online June 7th, I believe. Check it out, and if you still have SAN left, it's probably the (a) game for you.

Saturday Night
I ran my D&D hack of Danger Patrol, currently called Dungeon Patrol -- but is Dangers & Dragons better? I dunno. Anyway, this was a lot of fun, and I had a great table of players. I knew them all, in fact! I'd say this is a disturbing trend in my convention games, but the truth is I like all of these people who keep showing up, so I can't complain.

I'd never run or played Danger Patrol, and half my players had never played it, so we were on pretty even footing. Let me tell you something about Danger Patrol, and Dungeon Patrol by extension: It is embarrassingly easy to run. It actually wrecked me for the FATE game I ran the next morning. "Stats? Seriously? Ugh. Can't we just roll some dice and I'll make some stuff up?"

I know John Harper's working on a Gamma playtest edition of Danger Patrol, and from what I've seen so far it looks pretty different from the Beta. I'm not sure I like it better, to be honest, especially when the Beta-based Dungeon Patrol worked so well. The Gamma uses all d6s, but the mix of die types feels a little more D&D-ish to me, so no matter what John ends up doing I doubt I'll change my hack to follow suit.

The only real problem we had was that, with six players, it was hard to keep threats threatening. They could easily dish out 20 hits between them in a round, so I routinely tried to have multiple threats on the table all the time. I managed to split the party, too, which helped as well. But that's not really a "problem," per se -- it's just something to keep in mind. With two or three PCs? Sure, major threats will have 12-15 hits. With six? Double that. And add a few points of Resistance.

The Culture and Class cards have been tweaked and I'm in the process of putting it all online for people to check out. I've gotten a few requests for it, so that's kinda neat, right? I'm also bringing it to GenCon, so if you're interested, find me there and we can get a pick-up game going.

Sunday Morning
Agents of F.A.T.E. Read about my/our triumphs here.

Sunday Afternoon
I played a boardgame! Well, I played Descent. Still, I did something in the boardgame ballroom besides walk through it to get to the dealer room. The allotted timeslot for the game was four hours; after five and a half hours, we called it quits. They all laughed at me when I said the last game of Descent I'd played had lasted for seven hours. Who's laughing now, chumps? We could've easily played for another hour and a half, but I had dinner to eat and a game to get to.

Sunday Night
I'd not-so-subtly hinted to Colin Jessup that I really, really wanted him to run Dungeon World at Gamex so I could finally play it, and he was kind enough to oblige. Not like it was a big hardship for him or anything. He clearly had a blast, as did we all. I played a paladin named Cassius. A beholder disintegrated my shield (but not my arm) right before I jabbed my longsword up through his jaw and central eye. EPIC.

Back at Hyphen-Con, Colin had told me that DW was the game that finally scratched his old-school itch. It was the game he'd been waiting for that'd give him that kind of experience without having to slog through outdated mechanics and design. Afterward, he asked me if it felt old-school to me, and my response was a very noncommittal, "...Sure? I guess?" I couldn't put my finger on it at the time, but after giving it some thought later -- and having recent experiences with both KotB and DCC for comparison -- I had to say "No."

I like Apocalypse World (though I've only read it), and I really enjoyed and will buy DW. Part of that is Colin being an awesome GM, as always, but part of it's just the game itself. The authors have done a great job adapting AW's style and mechanics to the genre while making little tweaks that nod suggestively in the direction of D&D. (Unfortunately, the D&D they're nodding at seems to be 3.5, not AD&D or BECMI, but whatever.) I love the class-based damage and replacing AW's stats with D&D's Standard Six. Colin did his level best to old-school it up with that beholder and those umber hulks and all, but ultimately, it's a game driven by a very contemporary design sensibility, and that really came through in my play experience.

I think the core of what I'm talking about is very simple. There's no Would You Rather? in DW. Like so many modern games (games I play and love!), there's a fair bit of player narrative control. (Even when I fail to Spout Lore, for example, I get to make up the false Lore I've spouted. Contrast this with the MC making my Int roll for me and telling me what I know.) That alone feels so utterly contrary to old-school gaming to me that I find it difficult to get past it. Players are constantly adding to the fiction out-of-character, or fleshing out the setting, or what have you. There's nothing wrong with this, and I like it just fine. It's just that it robs the DM (or MC, here) of their duty as Gatekeeper of Information. There wasn't really the same sense of discovery I see in my newbie D&D players when I tell them what a kobold looks like, or what's at the bottom of the pit they just stumbled upon, or pass them a cryptic rumor at the tavern. It's not that you can't do any of this in DW, but the players are empowered by the system to do this themselves, and taking that away from them would be a dick move, IMO.

So! I liked DW a lot. I'll buy it, run it, play it. I'm sold. I just won't be running it for my KotB guys.

All in all, a great weekend of gaming, especially when I write it all out in a lengthy blog post like that. GenCon's only two months away....

EPILOGUE: Here's a fun fact. This was the first Strategicon since OrcCon of last year that I didn't run Leftovers.