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|Sunday, October 27th, 2013|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|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.
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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.
|Origins Reactions #6: The Resistance
This is only an RPG in the most elastic sense of the term. It's a Mafia-like game, in which each player is secretly either a member of the Resistance or a government spy. The Resistance must organize five missions. Each turn the mission leader proposes a team of two or three players, which the table votes to accept or reject. If it's rejected, the next player becomes the mission leader; if it's accepted, the players on the mission secretly vote on whether the mission succeeds or fails. Resistance members always vote for the mission to succeed, but spies can vote for either success or failure. A single player voting to sabotage the mission causes it to fail. If three of the five missions succeed, then the Resistance wins; otherwise, the spies win.
This genre isn't my favorite, but I did have one successful moment, when I was a spy. The first mission, with two loyal Resistance members, succeeded. The rest of the table wasn't fully convinced of their loyalty, though, since it's a common tactic to let the first mission succeed, to make the spies harder to identify. I was the second mission leader, and proposed a team including myself and the two players from the first mission. Naturally, I voted for failure, and my grimace of disgust when I turned up the "Failure" card was convincing enough that everyone thought one of the other two players was the spy, which got me picked for the fourth mission (after another two-player mission succeeded). Alas, the other spy never managed to get himself picked for a mission, so the Resistance won.
(I played this as a pick-up game in the Board Game Room. I also played several other games which were not even remotely like RPG's, and which I'm not going to recap.)
|Origins Reactions #5: Dungeon World
I accidentally told a fib in my last post: I played one other traditional RPG, Dungeon World, at Origins. It left less of an impression than the others, because most of what happened had little to do with the mechanics of the game. We were handed character templates for some fairly generic classes (I was a fighter, there was also a druid and I think a cleric and a bard and something else), and told we were all distantly related members of the same family, the local minor nobility. My character was clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed, so I decided he took his noble background very seriously, and thought of himself as a respected and beloved leader of the community, and the natural leader of the party. (I assumed that everyone else thought of him as a self-important prat. But he really did take his duties and obligations seriously.) As a fighter, I had the option of personalizing my weapon and giving it a couple of bonuses, so I made it an heirloom, an ornate and precisely balanced weapon, which glowed in the presence of badgers. (There was an unfortunate incident when I first met the druid, who had been in badger form, but fortunately the wound was not serious, I had abjectly apologized, and we'd put it all behind us, or at least I had.)
I was much sillier than I would ordinarily be in a game like this. There wasn't much of a scenario, we only had part of the time slot left, and the other players weren't taking it very seriously either. Two of them were kids, and one was a teenager, who was enough of a jerk to eventually get a lengthy, very polite talking to from the GM, who was a hell of a lot more patient than I could have been. So not the ideal group for serious roleplaying, and I think my clowning worked well. The GM set things up by having strange noises and a sulphurous smell come from the direction of the family estate, and the villagers drove the party of town. My character became confused when someone responded to the thrown rocks by shouting "Duck!", and became convinced we were searching for demonic waterfowl. So we made slow progress while I searched for duck tracks and checked my sword for signs of badgers, and the rest of the group bickered and did their own thing, until eventually we came to a tower that had been destroyed by some kind of explosion, and ventured underground where we encountered some goblins, before running out of time. I played my character as having theoretical knowledge of fighting but no practical experience, which led me to do things like running down a passageway without checking to see if the others were behind me. The GM gave me the opportunity a couple of times to avoid the consequences of my folly, but I just said that no, my character would do that, and he went ahead and let me get myself into hot water. I don't remember much of the mechanics, but the system seemed to give the GM a lot of power to narrate consequences instead of rolling dice, which worked well with how I was playing. I did get some praise after the session from the GM and the other adult in the group for staying in character.
I didn't have a terrible time, although I could've done without jerk-teen, but I wouldn't particularly want to play Dungeon World again, largely because the traditional D&D-style dungeon crawl setting just doesn't interest me much. I can see having an interesting campaign in that kind of setting, mind you, with the right group, but I'd want to play with a party that felt like it had some reason to adventure together, and a story that was more than "wipe out these monsters that are threatening the village". And I can't really judge from this one session whether I'd rather play with Dungeon World or another system.
|Sunday, August 11th, 2013|
I'm still spending money on Kickstarters. A few of the projects I'm currently backing:Life on Mars
is a narrative RPG based on the evolving relationships of the crew of a manned Mars mission. It looks like the sort of game that could be fun to play once or twice, and if I get even a single good session out of it, I figure it's worth the money. The project's on its last day, and is fully funded.Hand Crafted Wood Turnings
and "Tiny Jewels"
are woodworking projects. I'm getting a 7-9" bowl from the first project, which I plan to use to display my dice from the Artisan Dice
Kickstarter, and five tiny bowls (1-2") from the second.Ironwood Engraving
is making wooden tokens for roleplaying games. I'm not sure if I'll ever use these, but they seem nice enough to devote a shoebox to, just in case. This Kickstarter is about 80% of the way to its goal.Who Bombed Judi Bari?
is a documentary about a pair of environmental activists who were victims of a car bomb, then arrested by the FBI as terrorists on the dubious assumption that they'd accidentally blown themselves up. I suspect this is probably excessively axe-grindy, but maybe an interesting enough subject to make for a good film anyway. A little under halfway to its goal.
I've also backed a few completed Kickstarters for pens (such as this one
, for a pen in imperial jade), but haven't gotten any rewards yet. I'm looking forward to ditching my cheap ballpoints for pens that are both attractive and more functional.
|Origins Reactions #4: Champions
Champions, a superhero game, was the last of the old-school RPGs I tried out at Origins. It's probably the most rule-heavy of all the games I tried, but the complexity was hidden from the player: it was easy to just say what you wanted to do, and the GM figured out the effect. The genre also worked well with the usual convention-style scenario of "three big fights, plus some other stuff". Maybe because, at the end of the convention, I was in the mood for a big punch-'em-up, this turned out to be my favorite of the traditional RPG's. My pre-generated character had enough different powers that the combats stayed interesting, and I also felt like I had useful things to do outside of combat.
The downside is it doesn't look like an easy game for a novice to play, without an experienced GM holding his hand. I got a copy of the rules, and tried generating a character. The idea I had was for a psychic detective, in the form of a mysterious 400-year-old Puritan, with a sword that was a physical manifestation of his will and which allowed both physical and psychic attacks. Turns out that's pretty easy to do in Champions, although the implementation is complicated. The problem I had was in balancing the character: figuring out how many points to spend on his character stats, and how much to spend on martial arts abilities, so that he had decent offensive abilities and really good defensive abilities, wasn't obvious.( An example of building a powerCollapse )
|Saturday, August 10th, 2013|
|Origins Reactions #3: 7th Sea and Hollow Earth
It's been a couple of months. If I start a series of posts, I really should finish them while my memories are fresh.
7th Sea is a swashbuckling adventure game, which uses an "x keep y" die-rolling mechanic. For example, in combat, you might roll 6 10-sided dice and keep the highest three. If any of the dice are tens, you keep them and roll another die. (My top roll, a 6k3, was 71, which was so far above what I needed that the GM let me know I didn't actually need to keep rolling more dice.) You compare the total to a difficulty level set by the GM. It's a nice mechanic, but the formula makes base attributes more important than skill, which seemed backwards. (I'd think a character with 2 wits (attribute) and 3 social (skill) should be better at gathering information that a 3 wits/1 social character, but 4k3 beats 5k2 almost every time.)
The problem I had with this session was, oddly enough, knowing too much about the setting. The scenario was based on the Scarlet Pimpernel, and I was the only one present, including the GM, who had read any of the books. So I was expecting a lot of stealth, disguises, and trickery, and the GM was expecting us to charge in and fight the bad guys. I would have enjoyed the session a lot more if I'd realized I should be playing "flamboyant and unsubtle", not "clever and sneaky". The mechanics look like they'd work well in a more traditional swashbuckler setting.
Hollow Earth Expeditions is a 1930's pulp setting with larger-than-life heroes. Turned out the GM and most of the players were the same as the 7th Sea group. It uses the Ubiquity system, which involves rolling a bunch of dice and counting up the "successes" (even numbers). We actually used sets of eight-sided dice which were numbered either 00001111, 00111122, or 01112223, to simulate rolling either 1, 2, or 3 dice. You also get style points for good role-playing or doing cool stuff, which you can redeem either to improve a roll or (more likely) to modify the narrative somehow. For example, my character had a first aid kit and medical training: after an enemy hypnotized my ape-boy ally into falling asleep, I tossed the GM a style chip and declared that my kit contained a hypodermic with a powerful stimulant, and used my action to revive the ape-boy. (I then declared he'd had the equivalent of about 50 cups of coffee, which sent a shock of horror around the table, as the character had started
out hyper.) I got one style chip for making a callback to the previous session; the system gives a fair amount of narrative control to the players, and rewards a loose, fun play style. Like 7th Sea, the scenario was basically constructed around a few set combat pieces, and our groups were basically total crap at planning, which kind of broke the illusion that we were larger-than-life heroes. Both sessions were a lot of fun at the time, largely because the group would ad-lib stuff along the way and the GM rolled with it, but I didn't feel like the session as a whole added up to a satisfying story. I would play with this group again, I just feel that the constraints of a single-session pre-planned scenario detract from the whole experience. It would be interesting to try a more open-ended campaign sometime.
|Friday, August 2nd, 2013|
|Self-Defense in America
From Anecdotes and Incidents of the Deaf and Dumb
, W. R. Roe, 1886:
"Deaf and Dumb have a poor chance in Texas. One of them went to a farmhouse, and, when asked what he wanted, put his hand in his pocket to get a pencil, and he was at once shot down by the farmer, who thought his visitor was feeling for a pistol."
|Tuesday, June 18th, 2013|
|Origins Reactions #2: Savage Worlds
My second session was run using the Deadlands supplement for the Savage Worlds RPG. The setting was an alternate-history Old West shaped by some sort of arcane cataclysm which left several independent countries in what had been the US and weird monsters running around. I played a black character named something like Enoch Ferguson who had special kung fu abilities and a few listed disadvantages, like "Outsider: Looked Down Upon" and "Heroic: Always Helps Those In Need". It's pretty obvious why a black man in the Old West would be looked down on, but I decided, just for fun, to have Enoch think it was because he was Irish. He was quite pleased that the new preacher in town was named Randall Patrick.
The system felt like it had the potential to be very flexible. Various skills were rated using different types of polyhedral dice, from d4 to d10, and if you wanted to use that skill you would roll both that die and a d6, and take the higher roll. If you rolled the maximum on any die, you rolled again and added that to the total. (So, for example, if you rolled a 4 on your d4, then rolled another 4, then rolled a 1, that would be a 9.) Beating a skill roll by a lot is generally better than just barely making it, especially when determining damage in combat. Unfortunately this was another combat-heavy scenario, with characters designed to be combat-oriented. I did have a bit of fun getting into my character—when the giant snake burst out of the sand, I decided to ignore my character's many combat-related abilities and spend his actions running to the kidnapped villagers and untying them. (This game also uses a system where you get tokens for good role-playing, which you can redeem to improve die rolls, and the GM tossed me a chip for that.)
On the whole, I liked the system with "exploding" dice, but I thought the game made it too difficult to activate my special abilities. If I were running in a regular campaign, I'd like to house rule some free actions to make it a bit easier to do cool stuff. I think someone said the game was originally developed as a set of rules for miniatures, and that's certainly how the fights felt as they played out.
|Origins Reactions #1: QAGS
I wanted to try a bunch of different RPGs, so I signed up for a crapload of different events at Origins, and I'm going to try to describe my reactions to each in a series of posts.
The first game I tried was QAGS, which stands for Quick Ass Game System. It's a very rules-light system which literally rewards role-playing; the GM is encouraged to give players candy whenever they do something cool. The players, in turn, can give candy back to the GM to avoid or improve a die roll or to establish some minor, convenient fact in the narrative. The scenario was called Nazi Sasquatch Death Squad, and involved a plan by Nazi infiltrators to rob Fort Knox with cloned sasquatches and use the stolen gold to power a super-science weather generator. The characters were a squad of minor superheroes. I played The Turban, who had the power to move air with his mind. I don't feel like I was very successful in creating a persona for him, and I think this made the experience more one-note than it needed to be. The most effective thing he could do each round seemed always to involve using his special power in some way, and the plot was structured around a series of fight scenes with "investigation" that amounted to rolling dice to see which character would find the clues that the GM had already decided to have one of the characters find. With a less rigid scenario, I could see having fun with this system, but I wouldn't want to use QAGS again for a combat-heavy game.
As a general note, I found that most of the prepared scenarios I signed up for were built around two or three big fight scenes. I can see why it's easier to prepare for a game that's oriented around combat, but I found the non-fighting parts of the games to be most fun, especially where the "not fighting" felt like it mattered.
|Tuesday, May 21st, 2013|
Kickstarter campaigns have turned into my latest overindulgence. I've mostly been picking up comic book or game projects that look fun, but I'll also toss a few dollars at local theater projects or other good causes. I've backed about sixty projects so far, for amounts from under ten dollars to over a thousand. (Mostly, two digits.)
There are a few projects I'm backing right now which are trending towards a bit below their minimum goals. (If they don't meet their target, none of the backers pay, and they get nothing. Kind of a bummer.) So I figured I'd give them a bit of a plug.
First, Start Here, vol. 2
is a collection of 25 essays introducing you to various authors, telling you which books to start with. Sounds like a worthwhile project, and $5 is a reasonable price for the e-book.
Second, America's Forgotten Organizer: Fred Ross
is a biography of a labor organizer, the man who (among other things) recruited Cesar Chavez into the labor movement. I'm a sucker for a good lefty memoir, but the cost of researching a book like this is well above what an author can expect to get back in royalties. I'm glad to throw a little money into the pot to make this a bit more likely to happen.
And third, a Tomárâho dictionary
, to preserve an endangered Paraguayan language. Only 160 native speakers remain, which means it will almost certainly vanish as a living language within a generation or two. But the researchers who have been working with the Tomárâho tribe have done valuable work in documenting the language for posterity, and I want to reward that.
|Sunday, November 4th, 2012|
|Terry McGarry status
I just got a voice mail from Terry. Her basement and car were flooded, she still has no water or power, cell service is spotty, and the National Guard has imposed a curfew, but her living area got through the storm without damage, her neighbor has a generator, and she's adequately supplied with food and water.