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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Steven desJardins' LiveJournal:

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Sunday, March 22nd, 2015
2:06 pm
DC Gameday: Dust Devils
I played three RPG's during DC Gameday, a local mini-convention, last weekend. Two of them were all right, but nothing particular memorable. The Dust Devils session, though, was a complete blast and one of the most memorable RPG's I've played.

session reportCollapse )
Saturday, March 7th, 2015
8:09 pm
2015 Hugo Nominations: At Least 40% Unprepared
The deadline for Hugo nominations is Tuesday, and, as usual, I am woefully behind in reading short fiction. I have read about 80% of Long Hidden, a very good anthology about underrepresented viewpoints, but I still have no novellas and only one novelette on my shortlist. Ordinarily, I would simply skip the categories I was poorly read in, but a group of conservatives is trying to get a slate of crap nominees on the ballot through block voting, and they might well succeed. (I wouldn't object to a recommended reading list, but actual block voting is very different and in my eyes very scummy. Last year, they got several crummy stories on the ballot, which mostly finished behind "No Award" in the final voting.) I feel obliged to help increase turnout, which hopefully will help counter at least slightly their tactics, and maybe reduce the amount of garbage I have to read before casting my final ballot.

There's a strong crop of novels up this year. My Real Children by Jo Walton is spectacularly good, and I also enjoyed The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison tremendously. Steven Brust's Hawk is a solid entry in the Vlad Taltos series, which fully deserves "cumulative achievement" bonus Hugo nominating points. I would like to read The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu before the nominating deadline, but I'm not sure if I'll make it. (More translated fiction on the Hugo ballot, please!) And I'm considering adding the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Van Der Meer (eligible as a whole, since it comprises a single story) and The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher, which I would be sad to see beat out any of my three favorites, but which is still a fun book I wouldn't mind getting some notice.

I plan to read at least one novelette and one novella each day until the voting deadline, drawing on recommended reading lists, preferably more. So far the only one on my nomination list is Ken Liu's "Knotting Grass, Hidden Ring", from Long Hidden.

So far my three favorite short stories from Long Hidden are "Neither Witch Nor Fairy" by Nghi Vo, "Ogres of East Africa" by Sofia Samatar, and Marigolds by L. S. Johnson. They'll be on my ballot unless something bumps them off.

There were a lot of good comics last year. Right now my list contains The Order of the Stick: Blood Runs In the Family by Rich Burlew, The Shadow Hero Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, Silver Surfer: New Dawn by Dan Slott and Michael Allred, Widdershins vol. 4: Piece of Cake by Kate Ashwin, and Atomic Robo vol. 8: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener. I'm particularly fond of the first two.

For Fan Writer, I'd like Abi Sutherland, of Making Light, to get her due. James Nicoll has also been doing really good work on his review site.

If you have suggestions for me to look at in the next couple of days, particularly for short fiction or some of the categories I haven't mentioned, feel free to mention them in comments.
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
10:22 pm
RPG Trivia
I signed up for an online Pathfinder one-shot, since I haven't played a D&D-style game in 30-odd years and felt like I should give it a shot. I chose the swashbuckler class, and the GM asked me to write up a bit of background.

The Secret Origin of KelmarCollapse )
Sunday, October 12th, 2014
9:44 am
Virtuacon 2014
RPGGeek had an online convention this weekend, and I participated in three RPG sessions.

session reportsCollapse )

I think the Fate session was my favorite—the player playing Tink was a hoot. But Mouse Guard also had a surprisingly satisfactory story arc. Good weekend.
Saturday, June 28th, 2014
2:47 am
Dice Bowl
I've collected quite a few wooden dice over the past year (from Artisan Dice), and I recently bought a English Walnut bowl which makes a nice display vessel. I found at Origins that I really do like playing with nice dice, and that these dice are even nicer to play with than I'd thought.

big pictureCollapse )
1:18 am
Origins: Sunday
I just played one game on Sunday, but it was a lot of fun.

Iron EddaCollapse )
1:15 am
Origins: Saturday
Three games on Saturday.

Saturday gamesCollapse )
1:06 am
Origins: Friday
Another three games on Friday.

Friday gamesCollapse )
12:51 am
Origins: Thursday
I played three games at Origins on Thursday.

Thursday gamesCollapse )
Monday, June 23rd, 2014
6:01 pm
Origins: Wednesday
I ended up playing mostly RPG's at Origins this year, along with just one card game and no board games. I am (slowly) writing up my experiences.

I spent most of my time in the Indy Games on Demand room, but that hadn't opened up yet on Wednesday, so I signed up for two short events.

Wednesday eventsCollapse )
Sunday, October 27th, 2013
9:28 pm
Thoughts on World Fantasy Convention
World Fantasy Convention has always been an oddity. Most science conventions are run by local fan groups, who put on the same convention each year. A few, like Worldcon, are mobile and run by different fan groups each year, with future locations chosen by members of the current convention. World Fantasy is run by a different fan group each year, but the sites aren't chosen by fans. They're chosen by the parent organization's board, which tolerates fan attendance, but considers it their duty not to cater to fans. The board favors high-priced hotels, and high membership fees. They're proud of it being a "professional" conference, and they're pretty openly elitist about what they consider professional.

For the past few years, World Fantasy has had a lousy track record with handicapped access. Even when programming was accessible, attendees has trouble getting handicapped-accessible hotel rooms, getting into hotel restaurants, etc. This year, the committee chose a Brighton hotel that's grandfathered out of British accessibility laws, and put the registration area and some programming in rooms that either aren't accessible or that are very inconvenient to access, and they've been snotty in response to complaints. They've also been snotty in response to questions about gender parity on programming, pissed people off with tone-deaf explanations for fan-unfriendly policies (such as charging a fee for kaffeeklatsches, which are traditionally a free event, on the grounds that it discourages people from changing their minds after they sign up), and pissed more people off with insulting panel descriptions (calling female writers "broads", for instance). Thirty years ago, ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, neanderthal attitudes might have gone unremarked, but fandom has been developing a stronger sense of fairness. Effectively excluding the disabled by choosing a non-accessible venue may be legal, but it's not moral, any more than excluding blacks by choosing an all-white country club would be. Snidely dismissing people's concerns about gender balance is, again, a moral issue: I don't expect everyone to share my feminist priorities, but I do expect people to accept the principle that equality is a respectable goal.

Elitism is baked into WFC's core, and this seems to be the year it turned toxic. I am very glad that I did not buy a membership, and I'm nearly as relieved to find that none of this year's chairs are on the staff of next year's London Worldcon, which I am going to.

I'm sure that there will be better World Fantasy Conventions in the future. I know most of the people running next year's WFC, just outside DC, and I'm sure they'll do better. But I've been uncomfortable with WFC for a while, enough that I hadn't bought a membership even though it was local, and this year's trainwreck has pushed me to a decision. I will not attend World Fantasy Convention, not next year, not ever. The convention no longer deserves to exist. Maybe if the leadership changes, I'll reconsider. But for the foreseeable future, I'll spend my time and money elsewhere.

(Note what WFC's public bidding requirements have to say about handicapped access. Oh, you guessed it: their formal bidding requirements have nothing to say about handicapped access.)

I also will not support any Worldcon bid that has any of the current chairs in any significant position. (For future reference: Amanda Foubister. Stephen Jones. Michael Marshall Smith.) It may not be much, but if I raise my concerns at bid parties, it could eventually help make a difference.
Saturday, October 26th, 2013
12:12 am
RPG Report: Golden Sky Stories
I played Golden Sky Stories online last week, as part of Virtuacon '13. It's a Japanese game, in which you play henge, talking animals who can turn into humans and use other magical powers. The goal of each session is to help solve problems that the local villagers have. It's designed to be positive and non-violent.

Session reportCollapse )

It was an enjoyable game, but maybe a bit too low-key.
Saturday, October 12th, 2013
10:45 pm
A Penny For My Thoughts RPG
I played my first online RPG game today, a session of A Penny For My Thoughts. This is an improv-inspired storytelling game. The premise is that you're a therapy group using an experimental drug that allows you to share each other's memories. You start out knowing nothing about yourself. When you recover a memory, you draw a trigger out of a hat: my first one was "the ache in my shoulder". Then each of the other players asks you a leading question about the memory, which you must answer "yes" to. My character"s storyCollapse )

It's an interesting game. I think I retained a bit too much control, and if I play again I'll try to come up with decision points where I'm not anticipating a particular answer. But the combination of a random memory trigger and leading questions from other players really does open up situations you aren't prepared for: it's a very clever game engine.
Monday, September 16th, 2013
11:53 am
Best of TIFF 2013
11 days, 33 films. (It would have been 34 films, but one was cancelled due to projector problems. TIFF does not offer apologies or refunds for cancelled films, by the way; you can exchange your useless ticket for another film, if you can find one that's not sold out and fits into a hole in your schedule. Asshats.)

I'm going to quickly run through my favorites, in the order I saw them.

An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker. A Bosnian family is refused emergency care when the mother suffers a miscarriage. Based on a true story: the director read a newspaper article about the incident, and asked the family to re-enact the events day by day. Extraordinarily naturalistic and real.

Hateship Loveship. Based on an Alice Munro story. Kristen Wiig gives a brilliantly understated performance as taciturn housekeeper who, when she sees what she believes to be an opportunity for love, goes to extraordinary lengths to obtain it. This film makes a type of character who's often overlooked, both in movies and real life, the star, and shows how much depth lies unseen.

Only Lovers Left Alive. When I read the description, this film went straight to the bottom of my list, then when I saw who was behind it, it went straight to the top. Jim Jarmusch directs a vampire movie with Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt as vampire Christopher Marlowe. Stylish as hell. If you like Jim Jarmusch movies, you'll like this one.

Can a Song Save Your Life? From the director of Once, a film about a washed-up music producer who spots a songwriter in a bar, organizes no-budget recording sessions which turn into a hit album. No real surprises in this film, it just does what you expect and does it well.

Burning Bush. A student sets himself on fire to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Police, activists, lawyers react. Over the course of time, what galvanized Czech society seems to fade into a minor incident, but the closing credits have one hell of a kicker. Four hours long, but worth it.

We Are the Best! 13-year-old Swedish girls form a punk rock band in the '80's. Feel-good movie for those who say the hell with what society expects from women.

Tracks. Based on the memoir by Robyn Davidson, who walked 2700 kilometers through the Australian with only four camels for company. An interesting look at an extreme introvert, and a gripping adventure story.

The Wind Rises. Hayao Miyazaki's final movie, about the aircraft designer who built Japan's Zero airplane. Engineering as a heroic pursuit. The disconnect between the purity of his vision and the horror his designs facilitate is acknowledged, even emphasized, but at its heart this is a movie about the abstract pursuit of excellence. I need to see this again, and think about what it means.

Sarah Prefers to Run. It's hard to say what makes this film so appealing. At its heart is the character of Sarah who—prefers to run. Whatever else there may be, she prefers to run, which is incredibly frustrating for anyone who wants to get close to her. A really brilliant first feature.

Heart of a Lion. Finnish skinhead dates waitress, then discovers she has a son by a black father. Doesn't flinch from the ugliness of Nazi subculture, manages to find room for hope.
Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
10:39 pm
Origins Reactions #12: Reactions
So. My plan for Origins was to try a bunch of different games, with the objectives of figuring out what sorts of RPG's I would like, whether this was even a hobby I wanted to pursue further, and having fun.

Taking these in reverse order, I definitely had fun. I would like to play some more RPG's, although I'm not yet sure how often. And I enjoyed storytelling games where I could help shape the game world more than traditional RPG's in which I only controlled my character's actions. In games where I did control just my character's actions, I wanted to be able to make meaningful choices. If I had one ability that was always the best thing for me to do (like when one character had a powerful lightning gun, or another had one superpower which was more useful than any of his non-super abilities) I got bored. I enjoyed breaking out of the box the game put me in (in the climactic Savage Worlds fight, my kung fu master decided that untying the hostages was more important than attacking the giant snake), but I enjoyed it more when the game was flexible enough not to put me in a box in the first place.

Moving forward, I've picked up hard copies or PDF's of a bunch of different RPG's. I'll read through them, decide which ones have the most potential as one-shots, and see if I can organize a few sessions either locally or on JoCo Cruise Crazy next year. (I'd be interested in trying a campaign-style RPG sometime, but that seems harder to put together.) I'll also go back to Origins next year, and spend less time in traditional RPG events, and more time in the Indy Games on Demand room, which is where the less conventional games can mostly be found. I'll also try to find more humor-oriented games; in particular, I think I'll sign up for a session of Paranoia. There's a game store on Capitol Hill that has weekly D&D sessions, which don't sound like my thing, but I'll give it a try sometime.

I'm also going to look into online RPG's, using VoIP connections. It seems less fun than face-to-face gaming, but with a good group it should still be satisfying. Still need to do more research into this.
2:30 pm
Origins Reactions #11: Atomic Robo
This game is set in the Atomic Robo comic book universe, and uses the FATE system. Basic die roll mechanic: you resolve conflicts by rolling four dice, which have equal numbers of +, -, and blank faces, and adding the total on the dice to an appropriate skill (then comparing to either an abstract difficulty, or an opponent's roll). You can give the roll a bonus by spending a FATE point to invoke aspects, which are either personal or part of the situation. For instance, if your character is an international jet-setter who's always running into people he met in exotic places, he could have the aspect "Didn't We Meet In...?" If he's trying to persuade an NPC of something, he could say, "Didn't we meet in Budapest?" and, if the GM approves, spend a Fate point to get a +2 on his roll. (Alternately, the GM can invoke the aspect to make trouble: if you're trying to infiltrate a criminal gang, the GM could say, "One of the gang members is looking at you funny. You think maybe you met him in Bangkok one time." Then you either say, "Oh, yeah, we definitely met in Bangkok" [and the GM gives you a Fate point] or "Nope, that was another guy" [and you give the GM a Fate point].) There's a continuum of success, depending on how much you beat or fall short of the target number, and there are options like substituting "success with complications" for "failure". (For instance, when a player was trying to get a boost of speed from his jet pack to avoid a giant wasp, he failed his roll. The GM suggested that the player got the speed boost and evaded the wasp, but the jet pack stalled out. The player agreed, and had to spend his next action fixing the jet pack before it was too late.)

The mechanic seems like it should foster player input, but in practice it felt like none of the choices we made affected the story much. The rule is that you can only use an aspect if it's relevant to the situation, but there were enough aspects in play and the GM was flexible enough interpreting them that it always seemed we could find some aspect that would give us a +2. It ended up feeling like all the awesome flavor we came up with was being drained into repetitive game mechanics. This was accented by what seemed like an overly rigid scenario, where all the important facts were pre-established: the players decided, in a brainstorming session, that the wasps were vulnerable to cold and to anti-radiation serums, but the number of wasps we had to fight, the location of the nest, the climax where we had to stop the queen from building a nest in Albuquerque, was all fixed ahead of time. FATE still seems like it might be a good system for a campaign or a more loosely defined one-shot, but I think I might actually prefer a more rigid set of game mechanics for this sort of railroad convention scenario. I'd like to try a different FATE game sometime, like Spirit of the Century, before deciding how I feel about the system.
2:18 am
Origins Reactions #10: InSpectres
This was, hands down, the best session of the con. The premise is that your characters run an InSpectres franchise, a Ghostbusters-style company. The group decides what sort of franchise they want to run—the average InSpectres franchise is about as glamorous as running a Subway, but if you want you can have an upscale Hollywood "InSpectres to the stars". Our group unanimously decided to go downscale, in a strip mall. My character had been the captain of his high school football team. I named him Hiram Skorczynski, just so I could give him the nickname "High Score". After high school he went to work at Subway (he declined to play football in college, for academic reasons), and worked his way up to franchise manager. When the Subway went out of business ("through no fault of my own") he decided to become an entrepeneurship. Every InSpectres franchise has three officers, a CEO, a CTO, and a CFO. I played the CEO, naturally, and was very gung ho about our prospects. ("I really think it's an advantage, having the old sign up, because we're not getting the walk-in traffic and can attract a better class of clientele.") I kept on Jennn, who was perpetually stoned, from Subway because she had been my most reliable employee. (Jennn had no last name. I chimed in that I really needed her to bring in her Social Security card soon, I could cover for her a little longer, but I really needed to get her SSN.) Our CTO had designed a security system for a major technology company, and was fired after someone successfully embezzled millions of dollars. Our fourth employee was a former bus driver, who had been fired for shouting abuse at the passengers. We made her CFO because she was used to handling money.

Part of the premise of the game is that we're being filmed by a reality TV crew. We all got the chance to describe our character's intro on the TV show. I had my character running across a parking lot, with the others holding cheesy prop guns with lots of flashing lights, and tossing one to me as I go past. (I mentioned that the closing credits has outtakes from the 11 times we botched the pass.)

The GM started the game off with a phone call. A woman had a giant spectral frog in her home, which she wanted us to get rid of. Before we got her name or address, she screamed that it had swallowed her son, and hung up on us. I asked if we had caller ID, which gave the GM the chance to explain the equipment rules: if you want a piece of equipment, you roll as many as your Tech stat, and keep the highest. I had a Tech stat of 2, and rolled a 4, which the GM explained was a success, with a complication. (Aha, the table's on my character sheet, which I kept: "Describe the mostly positive result of your action, but you must include negative or humorous effect.") I got to define what that meant, so I said we did have caller ID, but the caller's phone number was blocked, so all we had was her name. Another player rolled to see if we had a phone book, and also got a 4: he found her name in the phone book, but there were five Mildred Blahblahblahs listed. (I can't remember what her name actually was, but it was long and vaguely Polish-sounding and none of us could remember exactly what it was during the game either.) So, boom, we had a plot, and all four of us piled into our van and drove off on The Case of the Five Mildred Blahblahblahs. (Shot of phone ringing in empty InSpectres franchise, cut to commercial.)

The other players repeated the first address back to each other to be sure they had it right, and promptly got it wrong. ("The address is 555 Main Street." "555 Mill Street! Got it!") We pulled up in front of an empty house, but decided we needed to check it out carefully just in case it was the wrong place. A guard dog did a bit of damage, and we discovered from the neighbors that the family living there didn't have a little boy, so we drove off to the next location, accompanied by the dog, which Jennn had made friends with.

At the next address, we got a high roll when asking someone for information, so the GM decided he had been one of the bus driver's regular passengers and was friends with her. I don't remember how we determined he was a goateed artist, but that was the point where we realized we'd accidentally turned into an episode of Scooby Doo. At this point I decided to have one of my two allowed "confessional" scenes, cut-aways where I talk directly to the camera in the style of reality TV. In my scene, I explained that the guns in the opening scene were just props the TV show had come up with, but Jennn, well, Jennn is a very good employee, but sometimes she gets things wrong, and she'd loaded the prop guns into the van instead of our real InSpectres gear. It was a good thing she'd brought the dog, or we'd have been in real trouble....

With that bit of spontaneous foreshadowing out of the way, we went up to the apartment, where we got a very bad roll. A very, very bad roll. The GM thought for a minute, and announced that this was the Mildred Blahblahblah who had called us, and she had been our CTO's supervisor at his previous job, and had been fired because of his screw-up. She was very hostile and didn't want to let us in, but I did my best to sweet-talk her ("Ma'am, as a Christian, I believe in redemption and forgiveness. [I forget his name] is a good man, and I know he's truly sorry for what happened," etc., etc.) and eventually she let us in. I sent Jennn down to the van to get our equipment, and we climbed up into the loft to see what we could do about the frog, and the son, who was visible inside the frog's belly. The frog did something suitably horrifying, which freaked out everyone except the dog. (I took a beating, falling down the stairs.) We established that the frog was an imaginary friend who was upset about being abandoned, and worked out some kind of procedure for dispelling it than involved going back to the InSpectres office. (At this point, I'm fuzzy on most of the details that didn't directly involve me.)

On the way back, Jennn decided to search for some weed, and found a baggie of unknown origin, which she proceeded to pass around. I used my second confessional chip to state that, however it may seem, I did not condone drug use and that to the best of my knowledge none of my employees had ever engaged in illegal activities, and we had never been in trouble with the police.

Back at the office, we succeeded in summoning up a second imaginary friend to keep the frog company, who turned out to be my long-suppressed playmate, a giant teddy bear named Mr. Cuddles. ("Mr. Cuddles!!!!!") Mr. Cuddles talked the frog through the process of letting go, and we got the boy out. At this point Mr. Cuddles and the frog were ready to move on, but I went "Nooooo!!!!!" and they ended up becoming permanent residents of our InSpectres franchise. The final shot: a big, menacing cop appears on our doorstep. He wants his dog back....

We ended up with a simple but satisfying storyline, which felt like it grew naturally out of player contributions. Really good GMing, keeping things on track with a light touch. And the other players were also great. This writeup is mostly about my own character, but only because that's what I remember best. I suspect the game might get stale if I played it too often, but I'd be happy to play other humorous games with similar mechanics.
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
11:15 pm
Origins Reactions #9: Fairy Tale Assassin League
This was a prototype the designer wanted to try out; it shared a slot with Dungeon World. The premise was that fairy tale character had grown up and moved to the real world, Las Vegas. Each player chose a character to play (I took Prince Charming), and the GM chose a villain (I think it was the Wicked Witch from Snow White). He described her evil plan, which was to gain control over all the meth dealers in Las Vegas, and each of us described why we wanted to bring her down. I said that a show girl who I was really, really in love with, for almost a whole week, had OD'd on meth, and I'd vowed revenge. There were location cards and tokens, so we could keep track of where our characters were (I started in the casino, with the Wicked Witch). Then we all got a hand of cards, with phrases like "a surprise encounter" or "lust" on them, and each round we could play an appropriate card to add to the story. No turn order, when one player finished anyone could speak up and say they wanted to play a card, and then they'd add a bit of narrative inspired by the card. The important restriction was that each player could only go once per round, and the round ended either when every player had had a turn, or nobody else wanted to go. The GM had plot cards to begin each round with, which helped move the story along a pre-determined arc, culminating in all of the characters teaming up to take down the villain.

The turn-taking mechanic worked pretty well, in terms of encouraging everyone to participate equally. The cards had only a minimal effect on gameplay, there were enough different cards in your hand to let you do just about whatever you wanted, but I think they maybe did provide a small amount of inspiration. I played Prince Charming as naïvely oblivious; he started off by flirting with the attractive woman in the casino, and mentioned his recent vow to discover who was behind meth trafficking in Las Vegas and take him down. This got him invited up to her room, where she bewitched him, and discovered, much to her surprise, that it really was possible for someone to be that clueless. It all led up Prince Charming's arrest for public nudity, and a car chase which landed the Wicked Witch in the adjacent jail cell. "Only one of us will leave this prison alive!" Prince Charming proclaimed, and, as it turned out, he was correct.

It was an okay game, if the rest of the group wanted to play it I'd go along, but it wouldn't be one I suggested for our next game.
5:15 pm
Origins Reactions #8: Fiasco
Fiasco is the only game I played two sessions of. I'd previously watched the Tabletop episode of Fiasco, which was a sort of master class in RPG creativity.

You set up the game by rolling four dice for each player, and taking turns using these dice to choose elements from various tables (typically, Relationships, Needs, Locations, and Objects) which tie the players together. For example, in the Vegas playset, relationships are Family, Work, Crime, Friendship, Romance, and Business. I might take a four from the dice pool and declare that I have a Friendship relationship with the player next to me. Then he could take a one, and decide that we're a "born loser and best friend". Every element takes two dice to fully define, so you end up with a Relationship and one other element connecting each pair of adjacent players. Once all the elements have been defined, you choose name for your characters and flesh them out a bit, then take turns narrating scenes involving your characters. On your turn, you can either establish your own scene and let the other players decide if it turns out well or badly for you, or you can let the other players set up the scene and decide how it turns out. The object of the game is for everyone, in the course of trying to satisfy their needs, to screw their lives up completely. By the end of the game the accumulated weight of bad decisions should all build up to one magnificent fiasco. The game's designed for 3-5 players, but seems to work best with four. (My sense is that a triangle isn't quite complicated enough, and a fifth player doesn't add enough to make up for making the game 25% longer.)

The first game had a fantasy playset, taking place after we'd successfully defeated a dragon and looted his lair. I wound up with a master/slave relationship on one side, a "both members of same non-human race" on the other side, and a need to "make my enemies pay—and everyone is my enemy". Before we started, we worked out that I was a giant, enslaved by a wizard who'd trapped my soul in his staff. I set up a scene where my brother and I were examining an ancient artifact, a giant's femur elaborately inlaid with gold, trying to figure out how to activate it, which would summon an uncontrollable army of undead giants who would ravage the countryside for miles around. I ended the scene with another player coming out of the tavern where he was saying, and spot us handling the artifact. I figured I'd set it up so he would be suspicious, and take away the artifact, without knowing exactly what we were planning, and then I could build up towards getting the artifact back and activating it for my big finish. Or I could fail to get the artifact back, and die barely failing to achieve my revenge. Either seemed good.

Instead, he declared that he'd overheard the whole thing and wanted to help us. Which … what part of "uncontrollable army of undead giants who are going to kill you" do you want to help us with? And it wasn't long before the wizard who'd enslaved me discovered our plans, and decided that not only did he want to help us too, but he'd planned this all along. So I ended scrambling frantically to find schemes to get my bloody revenge on everyone, which they would promptly decide to help me with! We did manage to come up with horrible fates for our characters: I chose to carry the ritual through to the end, even though it was draining the life out of my brother; the wizard cast a spell which backfired, making him my slave; I was paralyzed, made deaf and almost blind, reduced to begging my most hated enemy for mercy before I lost the ability to speak, tortured by his compassion (not realizing he was acting under constraint) and no longer able to beg for death. There was a lot that was fun in the session, but with all of the players pulling the story in the same direction the narrative felt really askew. I think part of the problem is that the ideas I was coming up with were too vivid, compared to what everyone else came up with, so they all wanted to grab my ideas and make them part of their story.

I tried again with a second group, this time an Old West scenario. This one went a lot better. Two of us were in a gang together, there was a greedy sheriff and his nephew, and one of the locations was the hanging tree. I set up my first scene by announcing that the leader of our gang was about to be hanged, and that he was the only one who knew where our loot was hidden. I dressed up as a priest and asked the sheriff for permission to take the prisoner's confession before he died. The sheriff recognized me—he'd arrested me years before—and wanted to know what I was playing at. I explained that I'd served my time and found religion, and wasn't going to cause no trouble sheriff, I'm a changed man. He didn't buy it, and set his nephew to following me to figure out what I was up to, and we ended up with a more satisfactory story than the first game. It still didn't fully gel, though, and I think the game mechanics are at fault. It seems easy to have an adequate session of Fiasco, but have a really exceptional one looks like it takes uniformly strong players with a compatible sense of story. Fiasco is also susceptible to what's probably my main failure mode in RPG's, getting too attached to my ideas and not reacting flexibly enough to what other people contribute. I would gladly play Fiasco again, but I think it's a hard game to reach an ideal level of play with.

Side note: the dice box I ordered came in the mail yesterday. It's made of bubinga, an African wood, and should hold about 60-80 dice.

Pictures below the cutCollapse )

Still haven't got any of my Kickstarter dice, but it sounds like I'll get at least a few of them soon.
Monday, August 12th, 2013
10:04 pm
Origins Reactions #7: Happy Birthday Robot
This was a quick warm-up game. It's designed for children. The players take turns telling a story, and they roll dice to see how many words they're allowed to use. Typically, each player will get about 2-5 words. The first player writes a sentence with his words, and can use the word "Robot" or "Robot's" for free. The player on his right then adds to the sentence, and can use the word "and" for free. Then the player on his left gets continue the sentence, and can use the word "but" for free. You can insert words into what's already been written or add them to the end, but you can't rearrange or delete words. There are also rules which let one player give another some extra words. After a few rounds, everyone gets one last chance to wrap up the story.

We didn't end up with the most exciting story, but the game seems to have potential. I may try it out on my sister's kids, the next time I see them.
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