Posts Tagged ‘Johannes Busted’

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…

 

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Return with the Slaver

I have maintained radio silence for some months while I finished my thesis and got used to the fact that there is a life on the other side of graduation. Now I’m back!

I am unfortunately not currently in a situation where I foresee a lot of roleplaying taking place in my immediate future. For this reason, the next while may see me returning to my original mission statement for this blog, dealing with storytelling in all its forms, and not just a roleplaying blog. I may post reviews and thoughts of/on books I read, films I watch, and radio I hear. I also foresee some posts on a couple of computer games, just as I may well discuss boardgames. Also, don’t be surprised if non-fictional storytelling crops up – I didn’t graduate in journalism for nothing.

But for now, I’ve got a couple of roleplaying posts coming up. The reading group is returning after a hiatus – keep an eye on this spot (and this) on the 15th of December, when a review of Occulus Tertius, the first Fastaval scenario, I can remember playing, should crop up. And the rest of this post is dedicated to the latest scenario I’ve played AND GM’ed: The Slaver from Ascalon, a Red Box Hack hack scenario by Johannes Busted LarsenContinue reading

Reading Group: Laaste Døre (Locked Doors)

Johannes Busted has started a reading group with the purpose of reading and reviewing scenarios from the online repository, Projekt R’lyeh. To me, this is quite a brilliant endeavour, with both altruistic and selfish perspectives: the altruistic is that it will make accessible some of the scenarios of the somewhat unapproachable R’lyeh. Unapproachable, because if you don’t know the games, it can be hard to know which game will be interesting for you to read. Also, it may kickstart a discussion of what constitutes a good scenario, something that is always worthwhile. The selfish perspective is this: that I get an incentive to read some scenarios, and someone to point me towards interesting games to read. It is eeexcellent!

What follows, then, is my review of the first scenario, Laaste Døre (“Locked Doors”) by Thomas Munkholt Sørensen – an oldie from 1994, chosen by Johannes. According to its Alexandria page, it won an Otto for Best Handout.

I have considered how to review the games so that it will be easy for me to do, and be of some use to the reader. I have decided to do it very systematically, dividing it up into a number of questions: “What is it?” (a brief description of the game), “What are the aesthetical qualities of the game?” (a fluffy description of my thoughts on the game as art – pretentious? Moi?), “What can we learn from this?” (what should gamewrights, and maybe players/gms as well, learn from this scenario?), “Who should play this?” and “What issues could I foresee with this game?”

And so, without any more ado, i give you…

A review of “Laaste Døre”

What is it?

Laaste Døre is a game about a group of people who are being made into scapegoats by the byzantine goverment of “the State,” the country in which they live. They are locked inside “the Department” until one of them confess to having comitted the theft of a certain, classified document. The game consists of the players trying to unearth each other’s secrets and save their own hide. Meanwhile, strange things are going on inside the building. The game quotes Kafka as a major inspiration – and it shows! The dehumanizing workings of the government come across as as inhuman and horrifying as a good, lovecraftian terror.

What are its aesthetical qualities?

I find the game to be quite an interesting read. It dumps the players into a dilemma with neither an easy nor a desirable exit, and provides the GM with means to keep up and escalate the creepy feelings the scenario lives off.

Also, the many strange occurences and the circuitous logic of the “Government” provides a surreal experience. In spite of this, the game will still seem like a coherent narrative to the players.

Apart from all that, the game document in itself is a very nice read. Nicely laid out, and with many apropriate pencil drawings, the language of the words themselves take you into their universe, making the GM feel it before even adding players. Very nice.

Who should play this?

Relatively experienced players and GMs are required for this game to succeed. The GM needs to be able to keep a very light grip on – or even let go of – the reins, and only intervene when the dynamics of the group require it. The players needs to be able to do intrigue, but should play, not to win, but to enjoy the bittersweet nectar of futility. If you’re playing this scenario, and your game has winners, you’re doing it wrong.

What issues do I see with the game?

  • The game has a very rudimentary system, with three numbered stats: the character’s loyalty to the state and their personal integrety are set on a scale, so that the sum of the two will always be 10. The character’s willpower represents their selfpreservation drive, and is supposed to be used by the GM as a way of forcing the players into gradual meltdown – a kind of safety valve against wrong players, I guess. However, the system doesn’t really explain what the effects of the system is supposed to be. How does one cave in? Why not just roleplay this – if you have a player who needs this to tell him his character is falling apart, can he play the meltdown anyway? And what are the effect of canges to your Loyalty/indviduality? The rules make no explicit explanation of this, and leaves you to work it out for yourself.
  • The game provides the Gm with inspiration for two kinds of little notes to slip the players – memories and suspicion. I guess it makes sense to ask the GM to write out suspicions themselves, as they can then take into consideration what has been going on in the particular instantiation of the scenario – but why not make preprinted handouts of memories that could just be cut out and handed out?
  • I’m not sure if the players will be able to figure out what the story of the game actually is. There is a detailed story in the GM section, which is the real story of what is going on. I don’t think the players will be able to piece this story together in play. If not, it’s a shame. I know that in some games, it’s best to keep players (and characters) somewhat in the dark, in order to rack up suspence. I just don’t think that is neccesary in this game.
  • The game asks the GM to set up the room as an imitation of the main location of the game, and encourages you to do things in semilive. It still has some scenes that are definitely to be done in a traditional P&P style, and it never discusses how, and when, best to go from one to the other. A luxury issue, I know – but still.
  • The game is apparently intended to run real time. But I think it may be stretching it a bit that this game is set to run for six hours. I’d say four to six. On the other hand, if the game is forcibly halted after six hours…

What can we learn from this?

Locked Doors can serve as example in a number of areas:

  • Write story text, even if it’s GM’s eyes only metatext, in a language appropriate to the feel of the scenario. This game is mostly written in a language that brings to mind the Kafkaesque universe we’re set in, and that makes it easy to get in the mood. Unfortunately, it breaks it a few times, and that also takes the top of the mood – but mostly, it’s good writing, and worth thinking about when you’re writing you own game.
  • Tell the GM how you imagine he should run the game. The game starts out with a relatively long description of the different roles of the GM – something I’ve sorely missed in many scenarios I’ve GM’ed at Fastaval. I wan’ you to hold my haaand. Very well done.
  • If you want a homebrewed system, fine – but remember to give us very specific instructions about what it should look like in action.

And so, this review is brought to a halt – finally! It’s been underway for many days now, and I’ve even recieved a very gentle prodding from Johannes as to the whereabouts of my review. Well, here it is. Now go play it – and tell me how it works in real life. The game certainly looks good enough to try.

Also read Morten Greis,’ Simon Pettitt’s and Frikard Ellemand’s – not to mention Johannes’ own. I’ve read none of them, as I believe reading other reviews would colour mine – and I want you to read my undiluted opinion. I might go back on it later, when I hear good arguments from the other readers, but for now, I stand by the above – even if it is, alas, not the best I feel I can do, but only the best I had time to do.