Posts Tagged ‘Indie RPG’

[In the Shadow of the Mountain] Fourth Session – Tension in the Mountain

After the long wait between the third and the fourth session, we have scheduled a session for Monday, and hopefully, we can schedule one in another few weeks. And so, here’s the

This one saw some interesting developments in the dynamics between the characters. The first two sessions had Maki in the hold and Spider in the mountain, with Smith going back and forth between them. Third session was filled with action, and had them all running back and forth across the hold and out to the mountain, playing up against a number of npc’s.

This time, on the other hand, they were all pent up in the caves, waiting for Ron to arrive (cue the Waiting for Godot references). This meant a lot of back and forth, and caused a couple of conflicts that they couldn’t solve through distance, particularly between Maki and Spider. The Hardholder and the Hocus had some interesting showdowns, with Maki trying to keep his domain together while Spider keeps strictly to the rules of his cult.

During the post-play debriefing, I discovered that Maki had had significantly fewer advances than the other two. One reason for that is that he doesn’t write summaries of the session. But another is the fact that Maki’s player is used to talking his way through roleplaying instead of rolling dice. Apparently, I haven’t been good enough at demanding rolls from him – also because the first two sessions provided more opportunities for diplomacy for him, so he wriggled his way around rolling the dice. Hopefully, that will change from now on as his play becomes a bit more martial.

Anyway, here’s the summary. I think I’ll write some love letters for next session; they will probably come up together with the next summary.

Summary of the fourth session

Spider, Maki and Smith are looking at the wreckage of Maki’s hardhold, and the heads of the people that Maki left in charge. They go back to get the men, and on the way back they met Mill, the foreman of the sulphur mines, and Mill’s second in command, Harrow. Maki explains the situation when Mill complains about the delay of supplies to the mines, and they take Mill and Harrow back to the caves.
Maki asks Spider to feed the miners and Spider agrees, on the condition that the miners participate in his services. Mill refuses to participate in Spider’s cult sermons and prayers, but Spider refuses to capitulate. Maki and Mill get into an argument because of this, and Maki threatens Mill. Mill agrees to hole up in the mine for the time being.
Smith goes to keep a lookout for Ron on the side of the mountain. He will make a humming noise with his homemade hummer when he sees Ron coming so that the others have more time to prepare.
One of the new children in the cult gets into a fight with Trout, and Spider has to break it up. He sends the mother of the troublemaking child to some of the other cult women with an infusion, he gives her son a toy, and rewards Trout with a piece of fruit and a commendation.
While out scouting, Smith runs into the cult of the moon. They surround him and their leader, Desert Eagle, speaks to him. He lies and tells her that he dislikes the Sorrow cult and is trying to get away from them. He tells her that there is trouble in Harren Hold. She invites him to supper but he declines. She inquires about Herren Hold and he tells her something of the fight – he doesn’t tell her that Maki is dead but he tells her that Maki is down in town, being a part of the fight.
That evening Spider reaches into the world’s psychic maelstrom to influence the miners and convince them that it’s better to come to bear the indignities and suffer through his service than it is to go hungry.
While this is happening, more men in animal masks come to attack the cave. They’re not expecting a lot of resistance and are surprised by Maki’s superior guard. Maki goes to assist the fight and succeeds in driving them back, but Jakabaka gets shot and one of Spider’s cultists gets killed. They kill one of the opponents and find that he wears a moon necklace. Spider attempts to gather information by opening his brain to the psychic maelstrom. He sees a spider that goes up to a fly and sucks it dry, then begins to walk towards him, sprouting wings as it approaches.
Smith, on lookout, also opens his brain. He sees a dog in Harren Hold, holding another dog by the throat and tearing at its flesh. The dog looks confused and frightened once it has killed the other dog, however.
While Smith is opening his brain, Nemo sits down beside him, and they converse. Nemo draws parallels between Smith and himself, belittling Maki and Spider.
In the morning Maki goes to the sulphur mines with bread stolen from Spider’s stores. Mill tells Maki that he wants to go down to the cave after all, and they go down together with the miners.
Spider tries to find Ron, and senses that Ron is on his way with a large-ish gang. The gang is elated and cocksure.
Smith goes back into the maelstrom to find out more about Nemo. Instead, he finds hardholders dancing to a shadowy puppetmaster.
Spider sees Thrice carrying a box of food from his cult stores toward the back of the caves. He confronts her but she tries to go around him. He shoves her and takes the box of food, knocking Thrice to the ground and pulling her out of her reverie. Maki comes running and gets into an argument with Spider over Spider’s treatment of Thrice. On his lookout, Smith sees Spider cut the strings of the puppetmaster with a large knife and blood pours from the strings, leaving Thrice helpless on the ground. As he comes to, Smith sees a dust cloud growing on the horizon.

 

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Fiasco: Identity Crisis

Yesterday, I played my first ever game of Fiasco. I’ve wanted to play Fiasco for a long time, not least since I saw how much fun Will Wheaton made it seem in his videos. Unfortunately, I’ve been living a good distance away from most role-players, so it’s been sort of difficult to get any kind of role-playing going. But yesterday, at a “Birthday Con” at a friend’s home, I got to sit down with Peter, Ole P., Troels and Nis to play a game of Fiasco… which was no fiasco (consider that the obligatory “fiasco”-joke).

Setup of the game

We settled on the “Fiasco High” playset. Most of us thought playing a teenage/high school game would provide many an opportunity for Weltschmertz and half-baked schemes. How right we were…

Set-up for a game of Fiasco has you roll a number of dice (four per player, I think), then use those dice to “buy” certain aspects of the relationships between characters. First you define the nature of the relationships between all neighbours – meaning you’ll have a relationship to the player on your right and the player on your left – then you define some characteristic of that relationship: a need, an object or a location. With five players, the game recommended two needs, two objects and one location. We might have liked one more need, but maybe that was because one object didn’t really come into use for us, and the location didn’t take full effect either.

Anyway, here’s our setup, as I recall it:

Peter and I were BFF’s (Best Friends Forever) by “Imperial Mandate” (what that meant was open to interpretation), and had a need “to get away with the Big Lie.”

Ole and I were “connected for life” as “identical twins,” and shared “our place”: the “D&D basement.”

Ole and Troels were “the richest kid in school and their devious minion,” and had “dirt on the Vice-principal’s son.”

Troels and Nis were “a searching soul and a Christian zealot,” who shared a need to get romance from “the incomparable Mike Tabuno.”

Finally, Nis and Peter did Community service together, and had a phone that had some sort of sexual connotation (I don’t remember exactly what it said, but I do remember how it played out).

 

From this we created the following characters:

Peter was Joey, the vice-principal’s son, who was doing community service, because he had been paid to take the fall for…

Kindra Flannaghan (me), who had DUI into a statue of the Reverend Mike Tabuno, who had donated a new science building to the high school. My mother had paid Joey to take the rap, and I was tutoring him to be able to pass his high school exam.

My sister, Keira Flannaghan (Ole) knew that Joey had been paid, but not for what. She was the GM for our girls only D&D group. The other player in the group was…

Mary Tabuno (Troels) – yep, she was the daughter of the Rev. Mike Tabuno. A punker and roleplayer, she was the rebellious daughter of a powerful, local church figure. She had been with Joey at the time of my “accident,” and had a… revealing video of him, also showing the police cars going by in the background on their way to the crash – thus proving that Joey couldn’t have been driving the car.

While Mary disliked her father, Lucy Bell (Nis) was one of his biggest fans. A poor girl, she was a devout member of Tabuno’s congregation, doing community service to prove her devotion. Her partner? Why, Joey, of course.

The plot, very briefly

(Brief aside: our story, by the nature of Fiasco, became quite multi-stringed and rather convoluted. I am trying to summarize from memory, but I don’t have a scene by scene go-through, so I’m trying to reconstruct it here.)

(Another aside: A number of times I’ve experienced feeling more satisfaction from playing an npc than from playing my own character. This was one of these instances: I played the Rev. Mike Tabuno, and enjoyed playing the very stoic, almost inhumanly calm, but somehow deeply disturbing, community figure.)

The game started with a clash between the devout Lucy and the unfocused rebel, Joey, with Joey drinking beer in the car while delivering meals to old folks. From there, we flashed to Kindra asking if Joey could join their role-playing group (which would not have been popular with the Rev. Tabuno).

Later, at the Tabuno residence, the Reverend has had a bright idea: his wayward daughter should join him on his Christian summer camp all summer. When she refuses, she is instead instructed to attend a bible study group the coming Wednesday – right in the middle of the weekly D&D-night.

But there’s a solution for this: Lucy, who is a part of the study group, really wants to go to bible camp – but she needs a scholarship from the Reverend to be able to afford it. Mary is of course more than willing to oblige – if only Lucy will help her skip bible studies. Lucy reluctantly agrees.

Lucy’s not the only one with money troubles. Joey has already spent the money he got to take the fall for Kindra, and now he wants her to get more money out of her mother. Meanwhile, while the girls are waiting for Joey at the D&D session, Kindra suddenly discovers that Keira and Mary have a video of Mary and Joey together at the time of the accident, proving that Joey didn’t do it. She panics, tries to kill Mary’s phone with spilt soda, only to discover that Keira has a copy. Kindra can’t destroy the evidence – what to do?

Meanwhile, Keira knows what to do. She knows that her mother is paying Joey, but not for what. Never the less, she wants in. She tries to pressure Joey into giving her some money, and he panics and sort of agrees.

At the Tabuno Community Center, only Lucy showed up for bible studies. When the Reverend shows up to check on the girls, he starts talking to Lucy about the coming bible camp, and the role she might play in it. Flustered and charmed, Lucy follows the Reverend into his office – God only knows what is going on in there (but it ain’t pretty).

Tilt

At this point we had the “tilt” – a complication that happens in the middle of the game. We got “Guilt: Somebody panics” and “Failure: you thought it was taken care of, but it wasn’t.”

Act 2

The next day, Lucy and Joey are in their car driving out food, when Lucy receives a message. Joey grabs her phone to see what it is – and finds a photo of the Reverend’s nethers. Lucy is quite flustered, and drives into a tree while trying to get it back. Joey decides to blackmail Lucy, not realizing that he could potentially blackmail the premier man in town.

Kindra is shocked to find out that she didn’t wipe out the video, and sits by stunned while her sister and Mary suddenly realize the significance of what they have, and consider what their next step should be.

Keira tries to find out why Joey hasn’t given her any money. Meanwhile, Mary seeks out Lucy (“who has a strong moral compass”) to help her figure out what to do with the video. Mary mostly figures it out on her own, while Lucy is stunned to find out that there are videos of Joey and not just of the Reverend. Later, she goes to see the Reverend to tell him about Joey’s blackmail, and the Rev. Tabuno promises her that he will take care of it. He is friends with the police, and can get them to take care of Joey.

…which they do the next day, when Joey comes to see his parole officer, and is charged with blackmail. He is very surprised, and immediately starts to blabber, in order to get out of this unscathed.

…which means that later the same day, the police knocks on Kindra’s door, and wants to take her in for questioning. Kindra is first shocked, then she pulls a low blow: she indicates that it was really her sister driving her car that night.

The aftermath

I’ll be honest to say that there are a few of the last scenes that I’m forgetting here. I think Mary goes to confront her dad, then meets up with Lucy somehow. Anyway, then we got to the closing montage. In Fiasco, you accumulate dice throughout the game, some white, some black. At the end of the game, you roll them all, tally the blacks and the whites, then find the difference. The lower the difference, the worse your fate.

Now, two of us, Kindra and Keira, got 1: The worst possible – probably worse than death. This ended up with an aftermath something like this:

After play, Keira was arrested, and imprisoned through her sisters perjurous testimony. This is backed up by help from the Rev. Tabuno, whom Kindra has joined – we see her burn her D&D books under his supervision, and later, she is teaching at the Summer Camp, pregnant and married to Tabuno’s son (but who the actual father is, is more than questionable).

Joey serves time inside, and comes out to start over from the bottom of the pile.

And finally, Mary and Lucy both leave the clutches of the Reverend Mike Tabuno, and go off together into the sunset (more or less).

Closing thoughts

The game was a lot of fun. I wasn’t entirely happy with the amount of escalation we had – I think we were a bit too cautious, and we weren’t that good at driving towards conflict. Despite that, we had some cringe-worthy moments, and the story was very good. Fiasco is particularly good at giving a great starting point, and the tilt was a bit abstract, but good.

I think Fiasco is a game that needs some relatively experienced story gamers. But if you have that, you have the basis for a great story within approximately three hours. A great game what I can heartily recommend.

Mage: the ascension magic, doing it like the Lady

My parents are moving out of the house they’ve lived in for the past 25 years and moving into something significantly smaller. This means that they want to get rid of all the stuff they don’t have room for – including my old stuff. And so, my mother brought a big box of old roleplaying books. Among these books was Mage: The Ascencion, one of the roleplaying games I liked best, but never really got to play, except in brief, one shot sessions – and this is really a game where you need to have a campaign in which to define your character and, not least, the way you cast spells.

Mage: the awhatening?

If you don’t know Mage, it’s a very post-modern game of ordinary humans who suddenly Awaken to find that they can influence the world with their will. In this world, reality is literally a product of the collective minds of every ordinary human (the “Sleepers”), and so reality changes with the mindset of each new age. Magic that follows the rules of the current reality will be easier to perform, while magic that breaks it risks incurring “Paradox,” reality’s way of fighting intruders.

Each Mage will quickly find himself a certain style of magic and join a corresponding group that centres around that style of magic. Player characters will usually join one of the nine traditions,* such as the Order of Hermes, specializing in “classic” magic with spells and symbols, the eastern artial artists of the Akashic Brotherhood or even the mad scientists of Sons of Ether or the Cybermages of the Virtual Adepts. Opposing the Traditions are three other factions, chief among them the Technocracy, divided into technical Iteration X, biotech Progenitors, political New World Order, financial Syndicate and space-faring Void Engineers. The remaining two factions are the mad Marauders and the devil-dealing Nephandi.

Magic in Mage is left very open. There are nine “Spheres,” each of which you can have up to five Dots in – as per WoD standard. Each dot allows you to do more things with what that sphere governs. Dot 1 usually deals with sensing, dot 2 allows minor manipulations, 3 is minor transmutation (so changing something into something else, or creating from nothing), 4 is major manipulation and 5 is major creation, at least when talking about the spheres that deal with “things”: the spheres of Forces, Matter, Life and Mind (to a certain extent). So in order to halt a speeding bullet, you’d need Forces 2, throwing lightning bolts or powering your computer without a power source is Forces 3, while Forces 5 would allow you to create a major thunderstorm.

Casting a spell involves describing what you want to do, finding out which spheres you need, then describing how you are going to go about casting that spell – what kind of ritual you’ll use, etc. Then you roll your “Arete” (a stat for your magical prowess) to find out if you succeed.

*: In the revised version, there is a tenth tradition, “The Hollow Ones,” but I was never a fan of them.

Problem: the Solving

I always loved the feeling of the book, but the magic rules always seemed a little too stiff to me. You’re supposed to design flashy, showy spells, but the rules seem to encourage precise, inconspicuous spells, and there’s little in the rules to encourage flashy storytelling – that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it’s not that well integrated into the rules.

There’s also an issue with the spheres: they are sometimes quite rigid, to the point when it seems a little silly. A beginning mage can do almost nothing, and sometimes you want to do a little effect when you realise you can’t, because you haven’t got the right sphere. Also, with each dot of a sphere being such a big step, it makes little sense that increasing your knowledge of, say, Forces doesn’t always increase your ability to manipulate forces

So, a more flexible system that encourages storytelling great spells would be good. As written, there is a big difference between the magic system and the rest of the system, and the book even devotes a chapter to magic, independently of the other rules. This to me makes a lot of sense to me: the game is about ordinary humans who attain the ability to bend reality to their wills while still essentially being humans – as opposed to Werewolf and Vampire, where you actually turn into a supernatural being. Of course the reality bending is going differ from doing mundane things.

With this in mind, and with Apocalypse Drow still relatively fresh in my mind, I had a thought to change the way magic works, using parts of the system from Lady Blackbird to better simulate magic.

Gathering: the magic

In Lady Blackbird, you have a number of traits, each with a number of tags. When you want to act, you take one die, plus one per applicable trait plus one per applicable tag. So, for instance, the character Cyrus Vance has these traits and tags:

  • Ex-Imperial Soldier: Tactics, Command, Soldiers, Rank, Connections, Maps, Imperial War Ships
  • Smuggler: Haggle, Deception, Sneak, Hide, Camouflage, Forgery, Pilot, Navigation, [Repair], [Gunnery]
  • Survivor: Tough, Run, Scrounge, Endure, Creepy Stare, Intimidate, [Medic]
  • Warrior: Battle-Hardened, Shooting, Two-Gun Style, Pistol, Fencing, Sword, [Brawl], [Hail of Lead]

It strikes me that a lot of these are very much like “skills,” and that they are a little boring, really. What I’d like to do is convert all the things about a character that affects his spellcasting into traits, and then give him a bundle of tags to attach to that. The tags should be aspects that are easy to weave into a spell, and which improve the play experience of playing the game.

The things that could be turned into traits are for instance: the Mage’s tradition, the Mage’s specific group (if he has one), the Mage’s concept/personality, and the mage’s spheres.

Let’s exemplify with my old character from a one shot thing I did. My character was a hermetic mage (he was a member of the Order of Hermes) who was an avatar of Odin, as such using runes to cast magic, and who used his PDA to write runes on. He also had a spear-like thing as a focus, and he had a glass eye. Being hermetic, he had a fair amount of Force magic. His Traits might look like this:

  • Order of Hermes: Scholary, secrets, language, ritual, secret names, House [whatever]
  • Avatar of Odin: Lost eye, spear, rune magic, crows, Old Norse
  • Technomage: PDA, Computer, Programming,
  • Forces sphere: Speed, Lightning, Electronics, Weather, Battle Magic, Spear
  • Entropy sphere: Soothsaying, Wyrd, Throwing Runes, Looking into Mimirs Well

These traits and tags could use some work, but you get the idea: have effects and foci connected to the traits. You then take one die per trait and tag that applies to the spell you are casting and roll them all, determining success based on how you roll.

Something else that might be imported is the Pool: in Lady Blackbird, you can add more dice by spending your “pool.” In Mage, you have something called quintessence which is originally meant to lower difficulties and power certain effects. But I think it would make sense to have it give you extra dice, as well as doing all the other things it does.

There is probably more that would need changing. But this is an outline for making a spell-casting system for Mage that makes a little more sense to me.

Rediscovering Planescape

This weekend, I visited my parents with the mission of going through those of my things that are still deposited there. Among those things were a number of roleplaying books – including some boxes of old AD&D settings. Oh, nostalgia! One of them in particular made me feel nostalgic: Planescape! The Planescape setting always struck a chord with me. The visual expression is very, very good, and apparently won it an award when the setting first came out in 1994. Apart from that, I like the feel of it. It has the same kind of “anything goes” feeling that many science fiction settings has, but with weird magic in stead of technology and science. Here, you can go straight from encountering modrons on Mechanus to chatting with Archons on Mount Celestia to being killed by the Lady of Pain in Sigil.

There’s also a great intellectual baggage in the setting. All the Outer Planes are manifestations and metaphors for a mentality or ideology, like the structured, Lawful Neutral Clockwork Plane of Mechanus, where the plane consists of cogs, representing the lawful nature of the plane. Or the desolate Gray Wastes, representing hopelessness and depression. Part of the setting is actually that the planes will change to reflect the attitude of those in the area – and if the inhabitants of a certain area of a plane start to think more like they do on a different plane, that place will move to that other plane.

This makes ideology and philosophy very important in Planescape – and of course that means that people take it seriously. Which again  means that several “factions” exist, particularly in Sigil, trying to promote their view of the world. And which faction you join will affect you greatly.

Like I’ve said, I really like Planescape. The thing I most DISlike about it, is that it is written for AD&D. I can see how it fits into D&D, but taken on it’s own, I really don’t think it is best suited for Dungeons&Dragons. It is a game that takes place on a cosmic and a personal scale at once, and where weirdness and ideology is more important than the “realism” of D&D. On the other hand, I think it’s perfectly suited to an indie mentality. It can tell stories on a personal scale, of people coming to grips with their place in the cosmos and trying to find out where they belong ideologically and philosofically – in a very literal sense: Am I a person of order, at home amongst the modrons on Mechanus, do I feel most comfortable around the decay on the Quasielemental Plane of Dust, or is my home in bustling Sigil, right where people from all planes clash and mingle?
At the same time, it tells stories on a cosmic scale, of wars and intrigues spanning worlds, if not multiverses, involving gods and fiends and armies of the most alien beings imaginable.
And so, I would like to experiment with adapting some Indie games to the Planescape world. A few ideas:

In a Wicked Age: Quite obvious. You need to write an oracle fitting to the planar theme, but you already have the theme of ancient gods, strange spirits, devious fiends and mighty heroes. All you need to do is give it a gloss of planar paint.

S/Lay w/me: Similar to IaWA – you just need to make some options appropriate to Planescape. Settings such as “An abandoned world, once the home of a wicked and depraved god,” or “Regulus, the bustling yet rigidly ordered home of the Modrons.”

Fiasco: I’m sure many a Planescape playset could be made for Fiasco. How about “…in the bustling city of Sigil” or “…amongst the scheming devils of the Nine Hells”. The first could deal with members of the different factions trying to make their way in the city (or maybe people from the Prime Material Plane just arrived there), while the second deals with devils trying to rise (or fall, I guess) in the hierarchy of the Abyss.

The Shadow of Yesterday: In many ways, I think TSOY is ideally suited to a campaign set among the planes. The different Factions and alignments can be represented as Keys, and you can easily make characters of different, strange, wonderful or dangerous creatures, be it githzerai, modrons, archons or halflings. The concept of ascencion also fits well with the planar theme – becoming one with the planes, or perhaps ascending to godhood (which is actually the basis of one of the factions).

Primetime Adventures: It’s almost too easy to mention PTA – anything can be the basis of a PTA campaign, just as long as you could make a tv series about it. Some ideas could include:
“Sigil City Blues” – a series about Harmonium coppers dealing with Sensate harlots, Anarchist terrorists, stiff Guvner judges and lawyers and eager Mercykiller executioners.
“Pelor’s Angels” – A group of female adventurers, travelling around the planes to do their good god’s bidding
“Band of Baatzus” – A group of fiends are sent off to battle the Tana’ri on the desolate plains of The Gray Wastes.
Others can no doubt be found. For instance, I have a feeling that it would be possible to use Apocalypse world for something interesting here, but I know too little of Apocalypse World to say.

Rewarded Progress Game

So, today I want to talk about RPGs.

“What’s so unusual about that? You talk about Role-Playing Games all the time on here!”

No, no – I didn’t say Role-Playing Games. I said RPG’s.

See, the term RPG (or rpg) no longer refers to Role-Playing Games. Sure, it used to, and some people would still use the two interchangeably. Many Role-Playing Games have RPG elements, and some RPG’s have role-playing elements. But the two have become very, very different.

I believe this all started with computer “role-playing games.” I know some people who would deny that you can have a role-playing game in the computer; certain muds and  MMORPG’s have made good attempts at doing so. But one thing is certain: a computer is not good at understanding language and human thought. Thus, it cannot easily adapt the game’s story to the player’s response, something a human GM can do intuitively.

What it can do is react to logical, concrete things. Which option did the player choose? Which way did he go? How many enemies did he kill? So this is the kind of things a computer can comprehend, and thus, for which the player can expect a response.

This can be implemented in many ways. Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic and the other games in the Bioware family have done this exceedingly well, creating games that make you feel like there’s a reacting world there, creating a feeling of being an active participant in the unfolding story.

But most games don’t have the resources to do so. Instead they look to Role-Playing Games and they see the part of role-playing games that fit right into the computer paradigm: The numbers. Stats. The “character sheet.” Abilities, hit points, mana* and – XP.

* By the way, it seems to me that mana, while very popular in computer games, doesn’t appear in that many pen-and-paper games. Something I would guess has to do with the difficulty of managing too many large numbers.

The irony is that as role-playing has moved away from this kind of stats, they have become ubiquitous in computer games. Role-playing-like games like Diablo and the early MMORPG’s started the trend, but today it has spread to all manner of games. Particularly online, adding some sort of progress bar seems to be an easy way to prolong a game by making you repeat certain content in an attempt to achieve the numbers required to “grind” some more advanced content.

And the introduction of this grind is what definitively sets RPG’s apart from role-playing games. Grind shows the player that his actions have no effect on the world of the game. He is not part of an unfolding story, but is merely in a game of skill and numbers in a pretty packaging.

Another move away from role-playing is the detachment from a character. Many games have more than one character that the player controls, many others have an abstract, impersonal “commander” or similar, or simply ascribe certain stats to the “team.”

In short, these games have developed away from their role-playing heritage. Now, they are focused on capturing the player’s attention with many small rewards leading to new rewards to strive for. As opposed to many other games, these games usually have no discernible end, but keep you hooked to go on and on and on (World of Warcraft and Farmville are both good examples).

And so, these games can no-longer be termed “Role-Playing Games.” Instead, I would “retcon” the acronym, and call this type of game a “Rewarded Progress Games”. In this way, the “grinding” games can keep calling themselves “RPG’s,” and role-players will know that this kind of game has little in common with what we play, sitting ’round the table.

Danger Patrol: Thwarting Crushtjov

Last Thursday, I tried out the beta version of Danger Patrol. The game went well, but there are some kinks. I’ll start with a brief recap, then I’ll present some of my issues with the game. At the end, I’ll say a little about my overall attitude to the game.

Danger Patrol is a pastiche of old tv-shows like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. You play the heroes of the Danger Patrol, defending Rocket City from all manner of villains who want to destroy, conquer or enslave the proud city.

How the game went

We were three people playing : apart from me we were Mads and one of his regular players, Sander.

They made an Atomic Agent and a Psychic Commando – two of the many peculiar combo’s the game allow for.

I for my part took the easy way out, and took the setup that is used as an example: Scarlet Apes attack Rocket City’s rocket car traffic. We had an action packed first scene, with our two heroes zooming up and down, saving people from plummeting rocket cars, slaloming between clotheslines and using holograms and psychic projections to stop the disaster from happening.

After that, we took some brief interlude scenes. I don’t quite remember them, but I think one took place at the monkey cage, with the mayor coming to greet the heroes.

Then, on to investigate this crime. One of them stayed at the cage, trying to find out who had let the apes out of their cage, the other trying to find out who would benefit, a trail leading to the mayor – who turned out to be a traitor, and fled down a secret staircase. Meanwhile, the other hero found a trail leading to a warehouse. And lo and behold – this was were the mayor was running to!

In the warehouse was a number of Crimson Republic guards alongside their leader, General Crushtjov, the nemesis of the players. Also in there was a Mysterious Character, the mercenary villain who’d commanded the apes to attack! The mayor bust ind, and panicked explained that he was found out. But the General laughed – they were ready to launch the Red Comet upon Rocket City!

The players came up with an ingenious plan:  Sander, the Psychic Commando, would throw in a smoke grenade. Meanwhile, Mads, the Atomic Agent, would sneak up upon one of the guards, take him out and put on his uniform.

The minute the smoke grenade went off, the general started to prepare a Rocket Ship for departure. The Mysterious Figure summoned more apes, and the mayor panicked. This action scene was more combat oriented, but equally intense, than the first. Mads was surrounded by burning Gasolineum from barrels thrown by the apes, but used a burst from his rocket pack to get out – thus blowing fire straight down into the puddle of highly volatile, burning liquid! It all ended when Mads, somehow assisted by Sander, blasted over the head of the Mysterious figure, and destroyed the engine of the General’s Rocket Ship, just as he was taking off, making him crash a short way away.

All in all, we had good fun. There were a lot of funny things going on, a lot of which I’ve unfortunately forgotten now. The system, however, is clearly a work in progress.

The issues I had with the system

The first kink was making good “Last time on” sequences. This was mostly my fault for not explaining it properly. One player started describing the entire plot of the last episode, instead of just describing a short scene of something he wanted in this episode. Also, being only two players in the game, I didn’t get a lot to work with in these scenes.

The combat system mostly worked fine. Most of it was quick, and very action oriented. The role of the action map, however, seems poorly thought out: the impression is of something very loose, but some rules seem to demand more exact maps, to know what would have to pass to get somewhere. Also, the telekinesis power requires the map to be much more than a guideline. Giving the players access to the map may not be the best idea – it’s the purview of the GM, and giving the player a power that allows him to change the position of things on the map seems to require that the GM decides what can be moved and what can’t.

There is also the issue of threats and threat actions. Now, being two players no doubt played a significant role in this – but it often seemed like I had a whole host of Threats that should be activated because the players hadn’t done anything about them. In the game, the Threats act according to a Threat table. There are two instances in which you consult this chart: if the player rolled ‘dangers’ (failed dice) you’d add them together and look up that level. If the players haven’t rolled against the threat, you look up its level +1 in the chart. Having quite a few threats, I did this quite often. Now, the only thing the lowest level of threat can do if there isn’t a player within its reach, is to store up a so-called “danger die” that would be rolled the next time a PC rolled against it, but counted only  if it was a ‘Danger’.  At one point, half the threats had red (danger) dice waiting for the players when they came to deal with them. Other threats would instead warrant the creation of a new threat. Unfortunately, I ran out of ideas way before I ran out of opportunities to make new threats. I think it would make much better sense to make a Threat Menu with many options that could be combined for different levels, making it easier to mix up danger actions.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the fact that threats don’t act on their own, but instead react to players. It’s a good way of spotlighting what the players are doing. It just needs some tweaking.

Throughout the game, I had difficulty gauging the balancing of player resources. Players have a number of resources: danger, damage and [+]’es (aspects that can be tagged for bonus dice). Some of these can be regained during Interludes. But my players seemed to be using a lot of these – enough that it looked like they’d run out before the end of the game.

This led me to go against what I believed was the rules’ intention on Interludes. The game doesn’t state this explicitly, but it indicates that there is supposed to be one interlude after each action scene. This makes sense – if you have five players, having five interludes would be excessive. On the other hand, I had two players, who were running low on resources after the first Action Scene. Thus, I let them have an Interlude each.

Now, Suspense Scenes. Suspense scenes are supposed to be investigation scenes of a sort, fighting questions as if they were threats. This indicated that they would work like action scenes. However – I already said my players were burning through their resources. If they had to use them on Suspense as well? They’d run out immediately. Besides, it says in the rules that threats generated here should be saved for later Action Scenes. Thus,  it makes sense that they shouldn’t get danger, and especially not damage, through these scenes. What then? If they haven’t got the [+]es to get bonus dice, and they don’t really need danger dice (they could get them, I guess, but I’m not sure it makes sense for them to endanger themselves like that in the suspense scenes that serve to pave the way for action scenes.

I feel like there must be something I’m missing (and it has been a week, so I might have forgotten important things here). But in my opinion, Suspense scenes are the single weakest point in the game as it stands – they don’t make sense. As I recall, they aren’t very well described, either – they are probably still being thought out, as opposed to Action Scenes, which seem to have been well planned.

All in all…

I like this game. It’s unfinished – this can clearly be seen in the game document, which has “notes to the author” instead of finished content in several places. But I can see its potential. I want to try the next edition of the game – and eventually the finished thing. It may be a work in progress – but it’s a work I really want to see progress.

[Mountain Witch] Second Session

Tonight, we played the second of four sessions of Mountain Witch. On the whole, it went pretty well, even though we had a few kinks to work out – my players were slow to start using their Fates, and they need to get accustomed to narrating successes. On my part, I haven’t been good enough at setting good scenes, and I’ve been “fishing” far too little. It’s getting a bit late, but I’ll need to do it a lot the next two times.

The Game

We continued where we left off last time. Hitayoshi was on one side of a chasm with Pig Man, the guardian of the bridge, while the rest of the group was on the other.
The big group decided to try finding a way around the chasm. I sent an icy storm their way. They decided to try finding a cave to hide out in. One of them suggested she could use her tracking to find a trail leading to a cave. So, when they had a marginal failure (or was it a tie? I know I got to narrate, so it was one or the other), I used that to say that they found a set of badger trails leading into a cave, thus introducing my character the Badger. However, just as they found the cave, they suddenly hear a rumbling noise: an avalanche, coming to bar their way.
The avalanche was an attempt on my part to split them up, in order to use the so-called “Break and Rejoin” technique: splitting them up, sowing discord, then putting them back together. And it worked beautifully. They all tried to get to the cave before the avalanche struck. Their rolls varied, with Hayashi getting a mixed success, Kato and Futasawa getting partials or ties, and me getting mixed successes against Hidaka and Kurosawa. Hayashi narrated barely getting into the cave (he got a mixed success, and narrated my partial as a flesh wound), Kato and Futasawa ended up right outside the cave, and the last two were swept along on the avalanche, getting thrown off near a little house in the mountains.

Teatime all around

Meanwhile, Hitayoshi was left with an angry Pig Man. Pig Man scoffed at him, calling him a cheat, then turning around to go home, mumbling something about tea. Hitayoshi politely asked whether he might be allowed to buy a cup, to which the pig grudgingly consented.
They arrived at the house, with someone inside asking what Pig Man was doing back so early. Hitayoshi asked me who was standing there, and I asked him to tell me.
He explained that it was his old master, Musachi, who had been thought dead. In reality, he had been dying after the battle. He had lost an arm, and was fading quickly. Then, O-Yanma approached him, offering to heal him in return for his service. And so, now he was serving the Witch.
Hitayoshi then explained that he was there with a group of Ronin, hired to go after the Witch. He said he got along well with all of them, except one.
“What is his name,” Musachi asked.
“Kurosawa,” Hitayoshi replied.
“Kurosawa… that name is familiar to me.”
“Yes. He was the one who killed my family.”
Awesome! I hadn’t expected them to be so blunt about their Fates so early, but it was great to see their reactions: they all cast glances at Kurosawa, who looked a little unsure of how to react.
Hitayoshi and Musachi agreed that Hitayoshi should go offer his services to the Witch the next day.
In the other end of the mountain, Hayashi got his breath back inside the cave. Suddenly, he realised that there was light coming down the tunnel. Intrigued, he started going down towards the light.
Here, he saw a curtain setting a cave apart from the rest of the tunnel. Inside someone was moving around.
He politely introduced himself, seeing a man in a great big coat walking around inside. In a slip of the tounge, I called him “the Badger,” which was generally well received – my attempts at describing a badger-like person worked better, I think, now they all knew what I was getting at.
The Badger invited him for tea, while he explained his business. He said he’d been pretending to be on a mission to kill the Witch, while really, he was in O-Yanma’s employ, doing something for the witch in return for being helped away from Japan.
He was offered a place to stay the night, and the next day, the Badger agreed to take him up the tunnels to the Castle, in return for a small favour.
Next up were Hidaka and Kurosawa. They went up the path to the little house. Just as they were approaching the house, the door opened, and a woman in the door offered them to come in. Inside, the table was set for tea for three.
“Were you expecting visitors… other than us?” Hidaka wanted to know.
“We are three, and the table is set for three, is it not?” said the Fox (whom, of course, it was).
The Fox started to open negotiations for favours with the two, but Hidaka, having apparently been spooked by their host, closed down the talks immediately. She was only interested in being shown a way up to the castle.
I did use this opportunity to get Kurosawa to agree to owing her a favour. She then pointed to what had appeared to be a dense bush, through which a path now ran.

Snow Battles

Kato and Futasawa turned out to be the least lucky of the bunch. Instead of getting served tea, they were left out in the snow. At first, they tried digging through the snow to get to the cave, but they quickly gave that up. Instead they started up the slope towards the castle.
Blocking their way, however, was a group of snow spirits, dancing some weird kind of dance (I hadn’t thought of these in advance, so they weren’t very well thought out. But, ah well – they worked). Futasawa had “Meld with shadows” as an ability, so he tried sneaking past them. He got stuck along the way. Meanwhile, Kato wanted to sneak past them by going from tree to tree, but soon discovered (after a tied roll) that there weren’t enough trees.
Futasawa then tried diverting their attention by using a stone from his sling shot. I won, so I ruled that the snow spirits surrounded him, but that he wounded one of them with a stone.
Seeing that the snow spirits were occupied, Kato tried sprinting up the road. One of the spirits heard her, and ran after, leaving its two companions to deal with Futasawa.
Which they did in spades. He rolled a 1, deducted 1 from a wound, and ended up with 0. Meanwhile, I rolled a 6. A critical success – enough to take out a PC.
Futasawa had been swinging his sling when he was cornered. Now he let the stone fly, and hit one of the spirits on the cheek. It roared in pain. This started a snow-slide, dumping a ton or more of snow on top of Futasawa. Kato left him behind, presuming him dead. He will return next time – either he wakes up to take part in the game as a full part of the party, or he’s found by some patrol and brought into the castle to be tended, where some of his companions will doubtlessly run into him.
Kato ran up the path, away from the snow spirit. But suddenly, a big wall with a small gate in it blocked the way. She knocked on the door but no one answered, and the snow spirit caught up with her. She drew her sword and ran it through, killing it easily.
Hidaka and Kurosawa were walking up the path, when they suddenly heard someone coming up the path. They quickly hid in a bush. The soldiers, however, stopped right in front of their bush to rest, so the samurai threw a stone to distract them, then ran out with swords blazing. Hidaka grabbed a soldier from behind, taking off his head, while Kurosawa hit the other on the arm. The wounded soldier was enraged, trying to trample Kurosawa, who managed to wound it, before he was knocked to the ground. Hidaka killed the third soldier, then turned around and killed the last one.
The two then proceeded up the path, running into Kato just as the remaining two snow spirits came running up the path. They finished them easily, Hidaka (or Kato?) even getting a Double success. She explained that when she stuck her sword into the spirit, it melted, leaving behind a key to the locked gate that I had been refusing to have someone answer. They went back to look for Futasawa, but ended up leaving him for dead under the snow (I think I may have been “GMing” them into dropping their search, but I thought it far better to leave him under the snow than to have them drag him around).

Entering the castle

Next morning, all of them prepared to go into the castle. Hitayoshi was going with Musachi and Pig Man, who was going to report the destruction of the bridge, Hayashi was led by the Badger to a place right outside the main gate, and the remaining three were going in through the side gate.
Outside the main gate, the guards were unwilling to let a stranger like Hitayoshi in. Hayashi heard this, and came to his aid, explaining that O-Yanma would want to see Hitayoshi. A friendly relationship started forming between these two ronin, who were, at least seemingly, siding with the Witch.
Inside the castle, they met the frightful captain of the Watch, who smelled the dead Gaki on Hitayoshi. He defended himself, saying that he hadn’t wanted to kill the Gaki, but had to go along with his companions.
In another part of the castle, three other ronin came sneaking in through a side gate. They came into a courtyard, where many creatures seemed to be walking. They saw a patrol come walking towards them, when Kato suddenly narrated hearing someone hissing her name. The woman led them all into a little hut in the courtyard. Kato explained that this was her old accomplice, Oshiro, who had once before helped her.
And with that, we ended.

Thoughts

I haven’t been a good enough “fisherman,” only once getting something useful out of fishing. It’s a bit late now, but I’ll have to do something about it.
My players’ reactions to the way this game is run differs immensely. Some take to it, while at least one is trying hard to reject it. I’ll have to do an extra effort to get that last person to buy into the game. I’ll try luring her into starting her own Dark Fate – I think that’ll help her.
I could certainly run the rules better in many ways – but I think my main issue at the moment is forgetting to set clear stakes, and forgetting to set counter stakes to the players’. This means it’s often difficult to narrate a mixed successes, or any of my successes really, because it’s not clear what is a success for me. I think I’ll tell my players to help me out – I get too preoccupied with managing the flow of the game, making me forget setting stakes. If I can make them remember it for me, it would take a task away from me, and give them more of a buy-in in the rules, I think.
Something interesting is happening with Trust. The person giving out the most trust (Kato) is giving out 14, the least trustful (Hitayoshi) only 7. The players are spread throughout the spectrum with people giving out 7, 8, 9, 13, 13 and 14 trust. That seems like quite a span! Clearly, someone is getting along well with people while some are being distrustful.
The trust is really well spread out, however, with people getting 9, 10, 10, 11, 11 and 13 trust. Interestingly, Hitayoshi is the one getting the most trust. I think there may be a stance issue here: only one of them have spent time with him in the game, and so they think: “Well, my character has no reason to trust him less,” while they, as players, know what he’s been up to. Hopefully, he’ll use it against them.

Next time

I have a much better idea about what’s going to happen next time than I did last week. I want to split up Hidaka and Kato – they’ve been inseparable since the beginning; unfortunately, Oshiro can’t get them into the inner castle all together – how troublesome, eh?
Hitayoshi will go before the Witch or one of his minions, who will ask him to go back to the other under cover, ready to help the Witch against them. He’ll have to work together with Kurosawa. I may show them both a family being executed by the Witch’s minions, to ramp up the tension.
Kurosawa will be approached by the Fox, who will want him to make good on the favour he owes her. The favour will of course set him on a course to collide with one or more of his companions.
Hayashi, likewise will be badgered by the Badger, who wants him to do something for it. I am a bit unsure about Hayashi – what he’s said so far could indicate that his Fate might be both Unholy Pact and True Motives. I want to give him a bit of playing field to expand his Fate, before I decide where to ram in the knife.
Kato has dug her own grave. ‘Cause you can sure bet that Oshiro has agendas of her own – and she’ll expect Kato to help her out.
I am considering giving my NPCs actual goals they try to achieve. I know I want the Fox and the Badger to have a rivalry, sending the PCs to do their dirty work. I think I’ll adopt the Dream Hunters storyline, and make them fight over a monk who is in the Witch’s dungeon.
Apart from that, they are going to hear much more about the dead Gaki. Oh, am I going to press that for all it’s worth. Overall, loyalty to the Witch is starting to become a theme here – the Fox and the Badger both made half-hearted statements to the fact that the Witch is the lord here, while Musachi and Pig Man both fervently declared their loyalty to O-Yanma. I’ll do my best to make them doubt the Witch – is he a strict, but benevolent, ruler, or a capricious and cruel tyrant?
All in all, I’m satisfied enough with tonight. We’re too many, and we were missing one, which will be a problem next week as well if he shows up. But we are having fun, and I can see the potential in the game. I’ll want to play it with four or five players who are more accustomed to indie, and I’ll make them read the book in advance, so they have a better idea of what this game is about. I think it will help this game a lot to have players who have read the rules themselves, instead of depending on their GMs haphazard explanations.