Posts Tagged ‘Fastaval’

Seven role-playing games that changed my life pt.1

Recently, I saw that someone (Per Fischer, I think) had posted a list of the seven games he had played the most. I contemplated doing the same, but quickly gave it up. First of all, it would be very difficult to properly assess how much I played which games in my younger days. Secondly, it would not be a very interesting list, necessarily. I played a lot of certain games while I was relatively young, but they didn’t have that much of an impact on me. The list would probably include, in some order: Vampire: the Masquerade, Vampire: the Requiem, AD&D, D&D 3rd ed, Warhammer FRP 2nd ed, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun. But that would leave out some of the game that I haven’t played a lot, but which has meant a lot to my perception of what role-playing is, and even to the course of my life! And so, here is a list of seven role-playing games that changed my life, organized in (more or less) reverse chronology. I may well try the same with scenarios and/or board games. For some of them, I may mention some games that might almost have taken its place – but I wanted to only include seven, so I had to cut them out.

Spirit of the Century

In my world, Spirit of the Century is close to being the perfect golden mean between sleek, streamlined, mass produced, “traditional” big game company produced role-playing games and the auteurish, experimental, diamond-in-the-rough “indie” games inspired by the Forge. It is a blast to create a character in this game, and allows you to tailor the evening’s session to whoever is going to be present. It is the perfect tool to help you capture the feeling of a pulp hero story. It achieves this in three ways:

1) The book perfectly evokes the genre all the way through, so that by the time I’m through, I can’t wait to jump into adventures with two-fisted heroes like Jet Black and his friends, defeating nefarious foes like Gorilla Kahn and Doctor Methuselah.

2) The system gently, but surely, nudges me towards the kind of game it is designed for. Fate points reward players for enriching the story and providing interesting complications. Henchmen and npc rules make it easy to have the heroes fight off appropriate swarms of nefarious goons, and make the actual villain provide interesting obstacles to the heroes. The character creation rules mean that you could have Tarzan, Zorro, Allan Quartermain and Biggles in the same team – and it wouldn’t feel awkward! In fact, having one hero be a rich heir who’s a science prodigy, while another is a former war-pilot and the third is a big game hunter would make a lot of sense. Not least because…

3) The game master’s guide gives the would-be game master of a game of SotC some very simple tools to make a great game, based on the characters that are going to be in that particular session. It really has one of the best guides on how to be a GM that I have ever seen, and I would advice any new GM to read that guide, even if you have no interest in playing the actual game. It provides three very easy ways to design a story that is going to feel pulpy, based on the participating characters, and has a host of great advice. One great piece of advice that I took from the home-page, and which is good for almost any game is to make a spreadsheet showing which skills each character has, and at which level. If everybody has a skill, they want to test it. If someone has a high rank in a skill, they want to ace it. If only one person has a skill, even at a relatively low level, you can throw spotlight on them by challenging that skill. And if nobody took a skill – well, if your players aren’t interested in a particular kind of challenges, why punish them by testing it. That’s the kind of simple, useful, player-oriented advice this book is chock full off.

All in all, this game has consistently provided me with enjoyable gaming experiences. It doesn’t provide the gritty, visceral stories that might result from games like Apocalypse World, Dogs in the Vineyard or In a Wicked Age – all games that do some of what SotC also does – but the sheer ease and enjoyment of this game just puts it way ahead of them in my mind. Yes, indeed, this might actually be my favoritest role-playing game.

Mountain Witch

I still remember my first game of Mountain Witch (not that I have played it THAT much). It was at Fastaval, and I had joined an indie game introduction. I had never played an indie game before.

We were set upon by two tengu (raven spirits), when I used my “knowledge of the ancestors” (or something similar). I wanted to know how I might defeat the tengu. I looked expectantly up at the GM for an answer – and saw him looking back, equally expectant. That’s when it struck me: the answer was mine to give.

I didn’t give a very good answer. But the incident (which struck the GM – and I think it was Per Fischer, again – enough for him to recount it on The Forge) showed me the power of Story Now. I quickly acquired Mountain Witch, Dogs in the Vineyard and With Great Power…, three games I have read a lot, but unfortunately not played a lot. All three taught me a lot, though. With Great Power… was the one I most wanted to play, but unfortunately, its great ideas have not been honed enough to make a truly brilliant game. As such, I don’t think I’ve ever played a whole game of it. Dogs in the Vineyard packs a lot of punch for its short size, but the bidding mechanic of the game is difficult to do well, and can feel a little mechanic. Mountain Witch is difficult for me to properly prepare for, but is probably the best of the three.

But no matter its relative flaws and merits, Mountain Witch will forever stand as my first ever indie RPG. And those two hours alone earn it a place on this list.

Alternity

Alternity is a very peculiar game, and one that holds a special place in my heart. It was TSR’s attempt to make a game that might do for Space Opera what AD&D had done for Fantasy: provide one system that could work with a host of different worlds. While the game never gained much of a following, I think it succeeded in this mission far more than D&D ever did.

The game borrows a lot from its older brother: The d20, the six stats, the classes. But the whole feeling of the game is completely different. The game is skill based, and while levelling up makes you better at things, you don’t get that much better at resisting damage. This underlines that this is not a fighting game. But what is it?

Well, it can be many things. It is a universal science fiction game, and it is geared towards providing more or less realistic visions of a future among the stars. A number of settings came out for the game, including Star*Drive, the “main” setting of the game, and Dark Matter, an X-files inspired setting of paranormal investigation with extraterrestrials and extradimensionals and ghosts and what have we.

So why is this game on this list? Well, Alternity is a game that I never saw much outside of my own bookshelf, even though I thought it was so great. It is also one of a number of games which taught me something that I’m almost embarrassed to tell you that I needed to be taught: that it is interesting to play ordinary people, that it can be fun to be weak and vulnerable…. vincible? It also taught me that Science Fiction doesn’t have to be Star Trek, Star Wars, Terminator or Judge Dredd – it can also be Alien or Blade Runner, all about regular, vulnerable people in toned down surroundings.

A couple of games vied for this place: Warhammer FRP taught me the same thing about fantasy, and showed me why Dark Fantasy was great, and why it can be cool to play a rat catcher. And Call of Cthulhu taught me something similar about a more realistic setting – and it taught me that tragedy can be a blast. You can have your cake and be eaten too.

Till next time

And that’s it for now. I’ve been gushing far more than I thought I would. I’ll post the remaining four at a later time, and I’ll try to gush a bit less. Until then, please tell me what you think of these games – and do tell me which games changed your world.

 

Wanted: Partner in crime

Fastaval now less than a week away. I am chief of the Info this year which means I have plenty to do answering emails, organizing and packing my own stuff (I’m leaving Monday to go set up for the con). With all this on my mind, there is one more thing I can’t help thinking about: whether I should write a scenario for Fastaval next year.

On one hand, I would really like to. I am thoroughly engrained in the organising side of Fastaval’s twin crews of the organisers and the creatives. But I feel that I should belong as much to the creative side of things, something my experience writing both my contribution to the Empire 40k and Antihero has underlined. On the other hand, I don’t think the way Antihero was created is the best way. Antihero was written in a sense of: “Oh, shoot – deadline’s around the corner!” Writing it was also in many ways a lonely process, as I am not currently in an environment where I often run into other role players, let alone people with an interest in scenario writing. That will, hopefully, change before the next scenario writing season comes around in earnest, but it has still helped me come to one important conclusion:

I want a co-writer.

I want to write my next scenario with somebody. Both as a measure to help the writing process along – I find it easier to do that kind of thing if I’m obligated to someone other than myself – and as a way to help me develop my understanding and style of roleplaying. In other words, I want someone who knows something about roleplaying and scenarios. Not neccesarily a veteran (though it could be), but someone with a perspective that complements my own – alike enough that we can agree on a vision, different enough that we will bring something different to the process. I want someone who wants me to challenge them as much as I want to be challenged by them.

So, what do I want to write? Good question. I guess I would like to write something different than both Under My Hive and Antihero. I might want to write a more classic kind of scenario. Both UMH and Antihero have been indie-like storytelling games with the GM in a very pulled-back, mediating kind of role. While that is the kind of game I often like to play, I also like many other kinds of game – like the more classic scenario with a strong GM and a story for the players to go through. I might like to try something along those lines. Maybe a scenario with very loose constraints and a lot of player interactivitiy. It might also be a GM-less thing. I haven’t played a lot of GM-less stuff, but both UMH and Antihero have had very weak GMs, and for Antihero, I considered whether the GM was actually necessary (there is actually a version provided in the scenario in which the GM plays a main character). So why not try to take the plunge, and do without a GM?

Another kind of scenario could be the retro scenario. It seems that dungeon revival is the hot retro fashion these days at Fastaval, with scenarios like Dungeon, Lydia’s Funeral and Kristian Bach Petersen’s Reservoir Elves, Magician: Impossible and Apocalypse Drow in the lead. Maybe it’s time to be avant-garde retro and make a bloodsucker revival that can show today’s kids that you don’t have to glimmer to sparkle. White Wolf just came out with the Vampire: the Masquerade 20th anniversary edition, and this year’s “Whole Con” is Dancing with the Clans, a game of Camarilla Disco. How about “Fear and Loathing in Lasombra” or some similar ironic nostalgia about the hottest games of the late ’90ies? I have a feeling that there is a Vampire/chick-flick crossover just waiting to happen – “Legally Brujah”?

I have also been doing a few “Fictioval” scenario previews that might be turned into actual scenarios. Like Kthulhu Kindergarden (kiddie investigators in an Arkham daycare facility). Or how about Love in the time of Chess, a sad game of chess prodigies using chess as a mechanic?

Continuing on the retro from before, it seems that half the blogging community has fond memories of Planescape. Maybe it would be an idea to bring Sigil to Fastaval. Giving the setting an indie motor and sending the players off to some corner of the Planes.

What to do?

So, if you might be interested in a partnership for next Fastaval, don’t be a stranger! Write me an email, or approach me at Fastaval, and let’s see if we can come up with an idea we can both agree on. It could be some of what I’ve mentioned above, some of what I have mentioned earlier on this blog, one of your ideas – or something we come up with together!

Antihero: Supporting characters as main character antitheses

A while ago, I wrote about my thoughts on the main characters of my antihero scenario. But what I really wanted, was to follow it up with this post, which explains my thoughts for some of the important secondary characters in the game. And at the end, I’d really like your thoughts.

Now, the Antihero scenario has a main character – the Hero – and four secondary characters: the Sidekick, the Elder, the Villain and the Coveted. The main conflicts of the game build on these five, and each player will control one of them. But these are not the only characters. And this brings me to an idea that I want to incorporate into my scenario: that each main or secondary character has a supporting character who is his antithesis.

Lemme explain what I mean with antithesis. An antithesis

” is a counter-proposition and denotes a direct contrast to the original proposition.” [link]

Thus, the antithesis character is one who is a counter-proposition to a main/secondary character, and who by doing so makes that character more sharply defined.

For instance, the Coveted is not impressed with the hero’s appearance, and will not bend to his will. This makes him interested, and he must strive to win her. Her antithesis is a village girl, who falls head over heels for the hero, and is blinded by his flashing smile and his heroic exterior. Similarly, the Sidekick is not fooled by the hero’s appearance – he helped create it. He is old and cynical. His antithesis is a young boy, who looks up to him and wants to be him when he grows up. His heart would be crushed if he knew the truth about the Hero – and I predict it will be crushed when the hero’s bluff is called at some point during the scenario.

Now, the question is how to use these characters. Should a character control his antithesis himself, allowing him to sketch his own counter-proposition? Should it be controlled by the characters opponent (on the two axes I talked about last time), allowing him to help define the opponents position, and cause a bit of trouble for him? Should it be controlled by someone on the other axis? Or the GM, maybe? Maybe you’d want joint ownership – or maybe just a common pool of all of them, so that anyone can use any character?

I should note that “control” does not mean  “play.” Control is all about who has the right to define and use that character. Whose character-sheet is he on? That person might ask someone else to play him, but even then, they have final say in the matter.

I think I tend towards having joint ownership between the two people on the axis. The problem with that is that you can risk a fight over the characters – or can you? Is that even a problem? Maybe communal ownership would be better, allowing anyone to use them – with the risk that no one will.

I’m also debating whether to give the Hero one. He could have a failing local guy who thought he could be a hero, and who’s intimidated by the hero. On the other hand, he’s likely to get loads of screen time anyway – he doesn’t need help.

What do you think? What will work? Do you have experience with this kind of thing?

[Antihero] The Main Characters

I am slowly starting to write my scenario, currently named Antihero, which will be featured at next year’s Fastaval. It is very much a scenario which will revolve around the characters, and they are probably the part of the game I’ve gotten the furthest with.

There will be five characters. One of them is the clear central character, while the others represent poles around him. All of the pole characters want something with the central character – the (anti)hero, and that wish is in someway opposed to what at least one character wants with him. So, the five characters in short:

The (anti)hero: the protagonist of the story. A con man, who makes people believe in him, uses these trusting people, then leaves before they call his bluff. That is not to say he isn’t a capable character, nor that he is all evil – he probably does good things for many villages. But mostly, he does it to help himself. However, there is a part of him that longs for something more. A part of him that wants to settle down, to gain a true life, instead of living a comfortable lie.

Two of the pole characters represent the outer struggle, and two of them represent the inner struggle that the hero faces. So, first I will present the outer struggle, then the inner.

The Village Elder: On one side of the outer struggle is the Elder of the village. At the beginning of the scenario, he enlists the hero to help defend the village against the plans of the Villain. That is not to say that the Elder is a saint, quite the opposite: he is manipulative, a coward, and he wants everyone to dance to his pipe. He is a very conservative person, wanting the status quo to be maintained.

The Villain: Opposite the Elder is the Villain. The villain wants to do something to the village, making life difficult for the villagers. Please note that it is not simply a matter of wanting to destroy the village. In fact, I think it is important to make it so that is it possible for the villain’s plan to be at least partially achieved, while still counting as a victory for good. The Villain represents a dynamic force, a force for change, but also an arrogant force, who wants to change the world according to his whim.

And thus, the outer struggle is the struggle for the fate of the village. The probable outcome is probably that status quo is not upheld, but that the villain does not achieve his plan either.

Then, the inner struggle:

The Sidekick: Every hero must have his sidekick, every Don Quixote much have his Sancho Panza. Also in this tale. The Sidekick is manservant, manager, squire, spy and spin-doctor, all in one. He cooks for the Hero, looks after him and his equipment and runs his errands. At the same time, he’s in on the scam, and he finds out who’s not convinced, and tries to make sure they ARE convinced – or at least that they don’t say their suspicions out loud. He tries to make the Hero stay with the same lifestyle they’ve been living together, and to make him stay the same.

The Coveted: Just as Don Quixote has Sancho Panza, he’s got his Dulcinea: the girl he pines for, and the girl he wants to commit heroic acts for. The girl, of course, is hard to please: She alone in the city is not charmed by the Hero’s antics, and is not charmed by his advances. He will have to win her over, somehow, and the only way to do that seems to be to (gulp) reform. He’d better shape up… thus, she is a force for inner change, challenging him to either become a hero, or to admit that he is none. Of course, she also needs to change: she needs to accept that there might be room for a man in her heart after all.

She’s to a large extent inspired by the woman here, the first four minutes of which display my idea of the Hero’s first approach, and of her initial attitude to him. She’s also inspired by the character Bean from Rango, the film that inspired the scenario in the first place.

And thus, the inner struggle is, in many ways, the real struggle of the game, though it needs the outer struggle as its battleground: can the Hero find a true life for himself, or will he forever live a lie?

These are the main players. Next time, I’ll write something about the main secondary characters – cause each main character will be matched by a secondary character that will act as their mirror. Also, I am planning to give the whole thing a framework that will give the GM a) something to do and b) a way to prod the players in a direction if needed.


			

The Empires Strike back – also, Geiger counts again.

I am currently teaching a group of 9th and 10th graders roleplaying games (though I’m interpreting it very broadly, and including a lot of board games). This week, I had three (almost – more like 2½) whole days – so now was the chance to do something with a longer scope than the usual three hours every Monday. So Tuesday, I had them play Geiger counter, while Thursday, I had three of them run a short story from either Imperiet or Imperiet 40k each, with the others rotating between the three games.

Zombies in inner Copenhagen, and Werewolves in Miller’s Hollow

Tuesday, they played Geiger Counter. Turned out we had just about enough time to do it, then talk about it afterwards.

One group started out with a great idea: to convert Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow into a Geiger Counter game. That group had most of the strong players in the class, so I left them to their own devices, and they seemed to do pretty well.

The other group consisted of mostly inexperienced and weak players, so I decided that I needed to nurse them quite a bit. In the end, I was faced with a dilemma: to what extent should I coach and coax them into playing the game how I thought they should play it, and to what extent should I allow them to play on their own, and experience the game on their own. I think I was rather controlling; on the other hand, I feel like it was my duty to make sure everyone was having fun, and when  someone fails at setting a scene in Geiger Counter, they risk taking the story down a road that’s unsatisfying for someone else, and can leave a story thread hanging unresolved and unresolvable. So I felt justified at the time, though I have since been wondering whether I was doing it wrong.

New hope

For Thursday, I had asked three of the more promising students to prepare three different short scenarios: Averheim Averessen by Johannes Busted Larsen from Imperiet, and Hendes Mørke Skønhed by Morten Greis and Under my Hive by yours truly from Imperiet 40k.

Hendes Mørke Skønhed went very well, as I knew it would. First of all, I had given it to the strongest of the GMs: a guy who’s big and mature, and is doing a performance line here – so I knew he could do both the whispering and the screaming, the two things that, to my mind, makes the scenario great and lifts it over a mere dicefest. It’s a scenario that uses some cheap tricks to great effect: though it is not really a “semi-larp,” it assigns in-game effects to how you act at the table. At times, you need to be quiet, or more aliens will arrive, at other times, you need to scream and make gun noises to get dice. It makes for a great effect, and I wasn’t particularly surprised when all my students seemed to have enjoyed it.

Averheim Averessen went pretty well as well. This scenario lives off of stress and confusion. It should be played as semi-larp, with everybody doing something all at once. The scenario instates real-time limits to its scenes, and asks for hectic activity within these time limits. Add to that that the action is often completely ridiculous, and it is a sure comic hit.

And finally, Under My Hive. I have a very ambivalent relationship to this scenario. As far as I know, it only got played once at Fastaval that year. On the other hand, that group apparently really enjoyed it. I have run it once myself, last year at around this time, when Hyggemester David asked me to put it up as an intro scenario for Hyggecon. I think people enjoyed it, but I didn’t get a whole lot of feedback. My group certainly went ok.

So, it was with mixed feelings I gave it over to a student to run. And unfortunately, he didn’t quite get it – and his first group of players didn’t, either. Under my hive is a story telling  game. The game revolves around a Russian roulette motif, but the real game is the memories the players have to tell every time they get the gun, asking them to explain why this town is worth fighting for, why they hate their opponents, or how they have made the town less attractive to the opponents. It’s a rather cerebral exercise, and if you aren’t used to telling stories in roleplaying, it can be difficult. And so, the first group played it as a Russian roulette game, and were done within half an hour.

The second group, however, got it. They didn’t finish within the hour and 20 minutes they had – which means they must have been telling a lot of stories. This second group contained some of the stronger players, and I’d made that group from the people I thought would appreciate the game. It didn’t play in the third round, because there weren’t four people who hadn’t tried it yet – the others were played with three players instead of four, something which is not ideal, but which is doable. That is much more difficult in this scenario, where you are supposed to have two pair sitting across from each other.

Anyway. Hurrah for the two Empire anthologies. There are a couple of scenarios that I’d like to try myself, and some I’d like to run with these kids – and it’s great to know there’s a backup plan available.

Ps.: If you wonder why I skipped Wednesday, we had only half a day, so we played games. One group had something to finish up, while the rest played Shadows over Camelot. They didn’t have a traitor and won comfortably, so they need a traitor next time to keep them humble, methinks…

 

That is not dead…

…and with strange season, dead blogs may wake again.

So, I had a first half of the year with relatively little in the ways of roleplaying and other things fit for this blog. I did play a bit, but not consistently, being a teacher at a school without any significant game playing presence and far away from other roleplayers. I did play one (semi-successful) round of Geiger Counter and one pretty good round of Venetian Tragedy. I, of course, also went to Fastaval’s amazing 25th anniversary, but I was mostly engaged in the organizing team, and not so much in the creative group. I did get to run Brabrand (which was a very enjoyable experience, though I was unfortunately kindly asked to sacrificed the great blockbuster of the year, Fifteen Men, to do it) and play a very intense and thoroughly enjoyable game of Venetian Tragedy, playing the lecherous cardinal opposite Johanna Kohljonen’s grand old Venetian dictator, with my girlfriend playing a very gleeful Spirit of Revenge, nudging us all towards the place we were all heading anyway: towards a very nasty and horrible end (Hurra!).

So, anyway. I had a bit of a roleplaying draught. And thus, I had very little to put up here.

That’s changing. I can now see a decent amount of stuff to write about here, which means I’m reopening the blog. This stuff is, amongst other things:

  • That I have moved closer to… everywhere, but particularly Copenhagen. This means I can now join stuff happening in Aarhus and Copenhagen, and would even feel like I could invite people down here to Slagelse for a night of gaming (and offers for both are welcome).
  • That I have moved to a school with a significant contingent of roleplaying students. These guys are keen to play, and we are in talks about making a mafia LARP at the school. I am also teaching a roleplaying subject, in which I am including a lot of boardgaming – not least because I’m alone, and I want to be in charge of showing the students new games, so I need to be in charge for a lot of the games – and thus, I need to split the group.
  • That I want to write a Fastaval Scenario. There, I said it. I will hand in one, maybe two, synopsees, and I haven’t decided what I’ll do if they don’t accept it. Give it to another con, possibly. I have two ideas, one of them an old, but never realised, idea about an anthology-scenario (no, not scenario anthology, but a scenario composed of short scenarios) about Søstrene Grene, the other a scenario about a fraud who will be required to get real.
So, that’s it. Filemonia is back. I think I will also post about boardgames, nerdy fiction (I’m currently reading A Song of Fire and Ice), and maybe even computer games. Only time will tell.

Give me your ideas…

So, I have been asked by Morten Greis to write two articles for this year’s Fastaval GM compendium – a booklet of articles with tips for GM’s and thoughts on the noble art of GM’ing. In previous years, a host of illustrious Fastaval people have contributed to the different editions of this tome of knowledge, and it is not without a degree of humility I have agreed to write these articles – I do not feel like I have any particular experience that makes me more suited to write these articles than a lot of other people. On the other hand, I do have some thoughts on these matters, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to share them with everyone who wants to listen.

The two subjects Morten suggested are:

  • How does one read a scenario as preparation for being a GM?
  • How does one GM a group of young, inexperienced players?

I think Morten decided to ask me about the first one after reading some of my reviews for the Reading Group – all of my studies have involved textual analysis, so I guess I ought to be proficient at that kind of things by now.

The second comes from my involvement with “ungdomsskolen” in two different cities in Denmark, teaching roleplaying to kids, something I have done for no less than eight years (my god, is it really that long?).

Anyway, I will post some of my own immediate thoughts later. For now, I’d like to hear from you: how do you go about reading a scenario you are going to run? And what are your favourite tips on how to handle a group of young players? Or, for that matter, which facets of these topics would you like my/an answer to?