Monday, April 14, 2014

Tuesday Night Gaming - Dungeon World,Numenera and more..

One of the problems that I'm sure I share with many players and GMs is finding time to get through all the games that I've spent a fortune on over the years.

For the last few years I've been running games on a monthly basis,and more recently, two saturdays a month. That's been good in terms of being able to plan campaigns and allows for plenty of preparation time. The drawback is that it can be hard to maintain a flow in a story, and this tends to hit players harder if they miss out on a session. Still, it works well in the current format (two parallel games in six month campaigns) but I wanted to expand. I've been playing in additional saturday evening sessions (more on that in a separate post), but it was time for tuesday night weekly games.

The initial plan was to alternate two games every tuesday and just run them for as long as it makes sense too. It's also a great chance to do demo's and oneshots without having to plan as much or require a commitment from a group. I did have concerns about burnout, but if anything this schedule and frequency has unlocked my creative side and I find it refreshing.

I've done three sessions so far, two of which were "Dungeon World". I've played this several times and wanted to experience it as a GM, given that I'm on an "Apocalypse World" binge right now. It has been really great fun, easy to run, with the story growing from the players decisions.

The other session I ran was "Numenera" which I'd posted about previously. I love the game and the setting, but I just didn't connect with it as a GM when I ran it. Part of it was adapting to a different system, part of it was running a published scenario (something that I'm not good at) and also I think I simply didn't understand the game in the same way the group did. I came away with the feeling that I wasn't really running "Numenera".I think I'd rather be a player in that game.

Going forward, "Dungeon World" will wrap up soon to make way for "Eclipse Phase", in which I'll be a player. I will be starting "Apocalypse World" next week, with "Nephilim", "Nights Black Agents" and others on my roster for the future.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Numenera RPG - Early Impressions

I recently bought the "Numenera" RPG by Monte Cook, a weighty tome that is beautifully produced and loaded with fascinating ideas. It is a science fantasy games that celebrates all things weird.

There is real buzz about this game from what I can see online, and also among my fellow local gamers. The premise is interesting...a billion years from now, our planet has passed through different phases and is now in it's "Ninth World". It resembles 1000AD in many ways, though there are remnants everywhere from the previous worlds.

These remnants are the numenera. Some can be used by characters to augment themselves temporarily ("Cyphers"), more complex items that can be used for longer periods ("Artifacts") and objects that have no game mechanic advantage, but add flavor to the game ("Oddities"). The general thrust of the game is find the numenera and make good use of them.

Character creation is easy and innovative. It's based around a statement, for example, "I am a charming Glaive who howls at the moon". The first adjective is selected from a list determines who the character is, what they're really about. The next word,in this case "Glaive",is the character class, chosen from three options: Glaive (warrior),Nano (scientist/mage) and Jack (all-rounder and rogue)...this is what the character does. The last part of the sentence,again chosen from a list, gives the character unique qualities. This all translates into stats,skills and abilites for the character. In the example above, I'd be a charismatic warrior who changes into a beast five nights a month.

Just reading through the various combinations that this leads to is exciting and should make for some great games.

The system itself is easy too, with everything based around a difficulty scale from 1 to 10. You multiply the difficulty by three, and the resulting number is what the player needs to match or exceed on a D20 to succeed. This is the case regardless of the task, whether it's combat or climbing a mountain. The difficulty number can be reduced in a number of ways, with the right equipment,skills or effort. Also, the GM never rolls the dice...this appeals to me as I'm coming to this as a GM who is used to that arrangement from "Apocalypse World" games.

I'll be doing a one-shot of the game at my local club later this month to see how it plays and there's already a lot of excitement about this. If you haven't checked this game already and are looking for something fresh and full of ideas,I strongly recommend taking a look. I'll post a review of the demo session in a few weeks time.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

True Detective - "The King In Yellow" in games

Like millions of other viewers, I'm completely hooked by HBO's new show "True Detective". The storyline, acting and atmosphere is superb, full of foreboding and weirdness. Throughout the series there are references made to the "King in Yellow" and "Carcosa". This blew me away, to see this in a major production, and it's been really interesting to read interpretations of this by an audience who are largely unfamiliar with the source material.

I'm enjoying the various theories theories and threads even more because back in 2012 I spent most of the year running "Call of Cthulhu" RPG sessions dealing specifically with the King in Yellow, in relation to the Hastur mythos.

I started by running a published campaign called "Tatters of the King", which tells the tale of cultists in the UK.Some of them follow Hastur, others follow Shub-Niggurath, and the story explores how these devotions have taken a toll on their lives, relationships and sanity. The first section starts with a performance in London in the 1920's of "The King In Yellow" on stage. The players in the game attend the play, and the show itself leads to a riot in the audience. The King is an avatar of the god "Hastur", and it has a sanity-busting impact, especially on characters with an artistic leaning. From this point on the players are drawn into the story of the cultists.

I remember narrating the play to the group, describing Carcosa and characters such as Cassilda and the "The Stranger"...the man with a white bone mask which is revealed not to be a mask. It was very odd in content and I know it left the group utterly baffled. Further on in the game the characters end up in Carcosa itself, with elements of the play becoming very real. I remember most of this,and I can't help but try and look for symbols and story hooks from it in "True Detective" (still trying!!).

"Tatters" is a very complex, challenging and layered game, broken into three sections. By the end of the second section my playing group had become inconsistent and the momentum of the story was pretty much lost. I decided to replace the final section with an adaptation of another published scenario, "Tell Me Have You Seen The Yellow Sign?". This is a short adventure set in New Orleans in the buildup to Mardis Gras, with Hastur cultists, voodoo, swamps, Cthulhu cultists and of course, the King in Yellow himself. This ran for two sessions with a small group of three players, and is still one of my favorite "Call of Cthulhu" experiences. I found that the location lent itself really well to the uneasy feeling and sense of chaos that Hastur stories bring, and I see it working well in "True Detective".

We still have yet to see how the "King" story plays out on TV, and how it really relates...the might not even be a supernatural aspect to it at all in the show. I do know that this show is making me want to bring a "Call of Cthulhu" campaign back to Louisiana and the "King in Yellow", and I'd love to see the success of the show inspire more people to try the "Call of Cthulhu" RPG.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Running "tremulus" - Mixed Feelings

My latest one-shot game, "tremulus", was a blend of two of my most familiar gaming worlds. The system is based on "Apocalypse World" and the setting is Lovecraftian horror. I decided to try it out, this time with a small group of three players.

I brought a lot of energy to this one, fresh off "Monster of the Week" which had ran like a dream. "tremulus" has many of the same conventions. The players have playbooks, containing instructions for character creation, moves, attributes and levelling. It has a sanity system as well, a nod to other "Cthulhu" games. The GM (in this game the "keeper") doesn't roll any dice and has an agenda, a list of moves, and moves for the various hazards in the game, such as town elders, townfolk and locations.

The game also comes with a questionnaire about the town, the people and weird rumors. The players pick a few responses and this corresponds to a framework in the back of the book. This gives the keeper two story threads to combine into a unique framework. The threads have two descriptions, one for the players and one for the keeper. The various combinations are fascinating and give lots of story ideas, definitely a highlight of the game.

In actual gameplay, there were some issues that emerged very quickly that I hadn't seen in "Apocalypse World", "Dungeon World" or "Monster of the Week". For example, the "Lore" skill rating was very easy to exploit and accumulate by the character playing "The Chosen" playbook, and could have led to heavy imbalance in a campaign. The Lore moves didn't seem particular inspired either.

The were several times where the characters would do actions that are commonplace in this type of game, but didn't seem to logically map back to a move. The trickiest piece was that "schock", which is really the sanity mechanism, requires two rolls. First to see if you pass the test, and then another to determine damage, even if the first check was passed. It felt awkward at the table.

I will also say that I think games based on AW are at their best when the group is very engaged and active, one of the reasons my "Monster" session flowed so well. In that case I was really like another player in terms of the number of moves I made. In this session I felt like I was having to call on a lot more moves and do more to move the story. I would definitely try "tremulus" again, there's a lot to like in there and potential for great atmosphere, though I would do a preprepared setting and houserule some of the mechanics.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Starting "Monster of the Week" RPG

I started a short campaign of "Monster of the Week" (an RPG by +Michael Sands) over the weekend, to get my 2014 gaming underway. It's been in my hopper of games to run for quite some time now and should run through to July.

Before I had anyone sign up or choose characters I already had a concept for the first session. I wanted something that could tick several boxes, serving as a demo, a throwaway encounter but also potentially a major part of the overall mystery arc. I would decide,with the group, which of those it would be once we'd played the initial session. It turned out that they liked the concept and we'll ride with it.

I wanted to take an old world monster that was known to them, but that I hadn't seen in a modern setting. I went for the Minotaur. He was a shifter, in human form appearing as a strong teenage boy named Chris. He lived on a farm with an older man, thought to be his father, who in reality was his son. Every seven years the Minotaur needed to devour seven people to stay alive.

I added a layer on top of the story to give a hook and also to send the group on the wrong path (old "Cthulhu" habits die hard). In this case, the monster and minion made a crop circle on their farmland. The crop circle functioned as a labyrinth for the Minotaur, the place in which he is invulnerable and feeds. It also lured in a group of teenagers who were UFO spotting, the first set of victims. The UFO angle was also the hook for the players, one of them in particular who played a conspiracy theorist, "the Flake".

We had a good sized group for this, six players,and the mix of characters selected lines up some amazing threads. We had powers ranging from the demonic to the divine, along with murky family relationships and paranoia. All of the players really loved this game and for me it was a true pleasure to run. I felt that some of the options and instructions I was given as a GM in the system made for a more complete and rounded story.

I also had a personal revelation about my own gaming preferences. I've always liked horror games, but genre aside, the thing that made "Monster of the Week" (and another favorite,"My Life With Master") special to me is the cinematic quality. I stated up front to the group to remember that this plays like a TV show. I liked being able to play the game as scenes, without worrying about realism. I liked the way time flows and the structure works. I really liked introducing a "move" that I've never used before, the "cutaway scene", in which I described a scene to the players that's happening somewhere else, to give them insight into the story. That opened things up immensely, as I could reveal some of story to the players without the characters having to be present or directly engaged. I'm excited about the next session and am already thinking about other TV style games....perhaps "Monsterhearts" will be next.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 - What Games Did I Run?

Yet another great year of games is about to end, this one went by quicker than the last! My last post talked about the games that I was a player in, this time I'm looking back at the games I ran.

Call of Cthulhu - This was classic 1920's Cthulhu set in New York City. It featured elements of the scenario "Lurker in the Crypt", and I finished the story of the Bishop family,a legacy started way back in the scenario called "The Condemned". I also put in some weird travels through time and space to Mars, which finished off the sanity of one character in particular. A wild way to wrap up the story.

Delta Green - A five part campaign which had some of my very best sessions. The group was fantastic and really embraced the paranoia, chaos and overall downward spiral of the setting. I used one published scenario, "Convergence", to kick things off. The rest was my own material. Most of it was single room mysteries, the focus was firmly on plot twists. At the end of it most of the group casualties were inflicted by the players on each other.

My Life With Master - Still one of my favorite games, I ran this twice. The first was a one-shot, the second time I did a two-parter. I actually prefer the one-shot format for this game. Although it does rush things, the game flows and the threads all come together. This game has themes that everyone understands at a very deep level. The buzz for me is seeing what the players come up with in the darkest of situations. They never fail to surprise me.

Paranoia - Yes, the old classic. I ran this recently and it was great fun.The group composition is really important in this game and we had a good one. Some of them also played "Master", and these games certainly have things in common. It also stirred up nostalgia on the day, with people coming over to see what we were playing. I'm surprised this doesn't get run more often, it's definitely a much loved game.

Trail of Cthulhu - This was a short campaign in the "Bookhounds of London" setting. I enjoyed the system in many ways, though felt it was too easy for the players, especially compared to "Delta Green". It was also fun to have some new players at the table. Overall this one had some good moments though we burned through all of the story threads very quickly indeed. I don't think I had as good a storyline in this one compared to "Delta".

The ones that got away:
Unknown Armies - I do love this system and I had a big group. Too big. We just about finished character creation and I just wasn't "feeling it". We had no concept for the campaign and I could tell that none of us really understood it. I just knew at that point that this one was going to die quickly, so I pulled the plug.

Fiasco - I missed this because of stuff at home on the day...the game went ahead though and was a real blast.

Monday, December 9, 2013

2013 - What Did I Play?

With the end of another year rapidly approaching, I thought I'd take time to look back on the games that I played, as I line up new games for next year. Next time I'll be posting a summary of the games that I ran.

Games that I took part in as a player :

Dungeon World - This was run by +Michael Bay and through the course of various games I played several characters. It was interesting to visit the "Apocalypse World" engine from a different angle, which will help when I run "Monster of the Week" next year.

Apocalypse World - This time out +Tony Reyes was at the helm in a weird, violent (to be expected) mini-campaign. I played a cult leader who steered the group down entirely the wrong path. This game is always interesting but challenging to play, and I never envy the person who has to run it. They seem to be caught between improvised responses and not being allowed to have much influence in the setting.

Shadowrun 5th Edition - A one-shot demo of a game I'd never got round to trying before. Great setting, but far too crunchy for my tastes. I was definitely the only one at the table who wasn't having a blast, so it can't be denied that Shadowrun has a certain "something".

Mage:The Awakening - I finally got to try a "New World of Darkness" game! I thought it was great, much easier than I'd anticipated. The LARP adaptation of the rules and the tendency to stay immersed in character threw me a little, and sadly my schedule got in the way of staying with the game. I'd feel confident running this myself, but there doesn't seem to be an audience.

Savage Worlds - This was a zombie survival game, absolutely not my ideal setting, but I really enjoyed the system. It had enough crunch to make the combat satisfying, something which I feel is missing in the games that I run. Fun, and great for one-shots.

Fate Accelerated Edition - +Scott Acker ran a demo of this and aside from being a fun session, I came away feeling that I actually understood how the game works...always a good sign in a demo! I'm interested in seeing where Fate goes in future settings.

Old School D&D - +john yorio has ran two sessions of this recently and I played in both. It took me back to my childhood and was good old-fashioned fun. Simple rules, deadly opponents and a really great sense of camaraderie at the table.

So there you have it, a decent selection for the year and I didn't realize how much I'd played until I planned this post! I salute all the people who ran these games. All were excellent gamesmasters and I learned something from each of them to take forward into the games that I run.