Posts Tagged ‘games’

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Gaming Thursday: The Mouseguard Wrap-Up

January 4, 2018

And so it is that winter has embraced the mouse colonies, the white blanket bringing with it times of tranquility and reflection, both for the members of the Mouseguard and for the players of our gaming group.  Mouseguard was quite the different game and experience for us, and very much not what I expected when I suggested we give it a try (likewise equally suggesting it as the first foray into GMing for one of our group members).  As I noted earlier, Mouseguard is a rather different animal (pun semi-intended) than most other RPGs, which is what surprised us.  It turned out to be a good surprise.

I would describe Mouseguard as the most narrative of the narrative-RPGs I’ve played, and I call it as such because (answering my question in that previous post) it lends itself very well towards more past-tense and third-person style storytelling than the first-person-immediate and extemporaneous play of “traditional” RPGs.  It also focuses on wider world building and longer-term storytelling, with links and interlinks that weave themselves together over time.  This includes factors outside of the characters as well as following through their failures and successes.  It asks you to think not only of the present moment but also how could this write something that, were it a novel, the reader could see the various lines all coming together.

Which proved to be very cool.  There was a lot of pleasure in riffing back and forth across the table, crafting how the scene was narrating itself out and about how we (as the characters and party) arrived at the end state dictated by the test roll at the beginning of the scene.  Much satisfaction was had when it all came together into a nifty story.  And while it might appear less personal than typical in-character RPing, it still left us feeling in control of and, more importantly, feeling connected to our characters.

This also spread beyond our characters and led to a lot of collaborative worldbuilding, writing further bits that wove themselves into our stories.  As an example, en route to the seaside town of Darkwater, we were ambushed by, and defeated, a set of ruffians.  We chose to take them to the town for justice.  What transpired next was an amazing exercise of extrapolation (from the little information provided by the rulebook) and invention.  Turns out, these ruffians were the children of the Primarch, where the Primarch is the head of one of the two councils that rule Darkwater:  the Sea Council and the Land Council (who’s leader is called the Primus).  Each of these leaders are chosen based on which mouse on the council made the greatest profit last season, and together they are supposed to make decisions about the town, unless they deadlock, like they frequently do… and then enter our group into this situation, and a large (in-game) debate ensues between us and Sea Council and the townsfolk about leadership and justice and independence and eventually leading to intervention by the Land Council…

That was the short of it and it’s even more involved and nifty than that.  Inventing the way the town worked was fun in of its own right; getting to blend it with our story and all the complexity that came with it (and the potential for future hooks and repercussions) was incredibly exciting and satisfying.

I also very much enjoyed the way the game’s “Player Turn”* worked to further encourage the well-roundedness of your character and their story.  Whether we used it to tie up loose ends from the GM turn or used it for entirely personal reasons, it always brought something new about the character, and/or the world, to the fore.  And sometimes, when we messed up here, complications could arise in a later GM turn were all the more fun because of that long narrative tie.

Good stuff.  While we labored a bit at first to wrap ourselves around Mouseguard’s structure (in retrospect, that the GM was completely new to GMing was a boon for us here, for they came unhindered with any “traditional RPG” baggage) we all came away enjoying our time with it.  For myself, I can say without hesitation I am quite smitten with it.  I still do very much like the method-acting/extemporaneous style of RP, and so games using a Mouseguard-like system won’t become my primary gaming outlet anytime soon, but I am most certainly keen on adding it to our campaign rotation and looking forward to when we play it next.

 

* It’s a bit long to explain, but the basic gist is that the game is structurally split into two turns: a turn (which usually encompasses one segment of a mission, involving one to four challenges) where the narrative is led by the GM and turn where the narrative is led by the players (which usually encompasses a night or a few days, and at the end of a mission, a few weeks).  It took me a read or three to begin to grok it, and it took us a few sessions to get comfortable with what to do and how to fully use our player’s turns.

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Philosophy Tuesday

October 24, 2017

Halloween is just around the corner, a time of costumes.  A time quite loved for that very fact, the one day everyone is allowed* to put on a costume and play.

Though… it’s not the only time of costumes.  In truth, don’t we kinda wear costumes every day?

In many ways, I’d assert, we do.

Natch, they are quite the different kind of costume than that of a ghoul, an anime character, your fishtank, or of a sexy [insert profession/noun here]**.  But they are costumes nonetheless.  They are the costumes we wear to reinforce the role we want or feel the need to play, and they are the costumes we wear to project a (specific) message to the world.

They are our broadcasting system.   Clothing choices, hairstyles, technology, brands, patterns of speech, mannerisms, the accessories we sport, and the vehicles we drive… all crafted and brought together to be our costume we put on (often every day) and go out into the world as “it”.

It’s a great mode of communication.  And when the costume comes from a place of authenticity, it can be a glorious self-expression.

When the costume comes from a hope of hiding, of identity, of shouting something we want to feel or be, when a costume is born of external concerns and of uncertainty and self-doubt, it can lead us places we don’t really want to go.  A costume can be the personal version of James Howard Kunstler’s description of the banal suburban home:  a television broadcasting 24 hours a day the message “I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal.”  A salve, but one that ultimately leaves no freedom or peace of mind.

As with many things in life, we often pick our costumes by accident.  We put them on without knowing it, we inherit them because it’s what we were surrounded by, we get into habits.  And often we get quite muddled in trying to figure out if we truly like something, if it is truly authentic… or if it is just our identities telling us we like it as a way of protecting itself.

It could be fun to add another layer to Halloween and use it as a chance to be mindful and examine all the costume choices we’ve made (and we make).  Sit back and take stock to see which of them truly serve us, and those we are instead caught in serving for.***  We can even fold in and take a lesson from children, who are wonderfully facile at putting on a costume and playing it to the hilt for twenty two and a half minutes, and, on a dime, change their outfits and get deep into playing something else.

Be clear, create and play on, reveling in the game of knowing we get to be in a costume of our choosing every day.

 

* That “play” and “costumes” are societally considered (still/by some/most) childish and weird and taboo and incompatible with being an adult is in of itself an interesting avenue to investigate the underpinnings of.  Equally interesting is the split in the mind of the avenues of play, such as sports and the surging acceptance of computer games, that are socially OK and are not thought of or siloed into the same category of what may be called play or playtime… ****

** The whole ‘sexy noun’ phenomenon is also a whole other post onto itself…

*** And for that latter group, seeing what’s there and getting onto the work of completing and transforming to create the liberation and possibilities we want.

**** Here’s a TED Radio Hour episode on play.

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Wonder Wednesday

September 13, 2017

Double Dragon Tiger Gate (very much one to look at full screen):

art by Stéphane Wootha Richard

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RPG System 12: Permissivity

July 27, 2017

Um… ok.  It’s been nearly 18 months since I last posted anything about my RPG system.  Yikes.

And that aside, here we dive in again!  Tonight looking at an aspect of game design that includes, in some ways, the area of how broad or narrow skills are in the system.  Going beyond skills, however, it’s a more fundamental and philosophical question about game design:  how permissive is the system? Read the rest of this entry ?

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Gaming Thursday: The Mouse Guard Epiphany

July 20, 2017

With another chapter in our Dresden Files game come to a close, my group and I have plunged ourselves into Mouseguard.  Based on the grand graphic novels by David Peterson, it promises a heavily narrative-based game (it uses a version of the Burning Wheel system).  We’ve played a half-dozen or so sessions, and we’ve progressively been getting into the swing of things.  There are a quite number of intricacies to the system that took us a while to remember and get a handle on;  more than we were anticipating, but as we play more and more we can see how they interconnect and what they make available.  However, there was one aspect of the game that kept seeming to elude us, something that despite our growing familiarity of the system still seemed to be robbing our game of what we felt should be a certain flow and involvement.

Last weekend, though, in one of those hilarious moments of non-sequitur insights while randomly walking through my house, I got just what had been eluding us:  Compared to the resolution structure in most RPGs, Mouseguard’s is reversed.

In all the RPGs I’m familiar with (indeed, this has been the “normal” way of playing since I started playing 30 odd years ago), scenes* are played out in “real-time”, with players/characters acting and reacting to events as they unfold in the scene, and die rolls are made whenever the GM thinks one of these (re)actions has a chance of failure.  This continues with further (re)actions and further die rolls until the scene ends.  Many different skills or abilities may be tested during a scene, and the players are usually trying to angle themselves and their actions towards “victory.”

Here is where Mouseguard flips things on its (mouse) ear:  there is only one test, and it happens at the start of a scene.

Things begin with the GM describing the basics of the obstacle to be overcome in very broad, 1000 metre view, terms.  The scene is also set in those broad terms:  it could be the forest, an entire city, underground caverns, or the sea.  With the obstacle set, the GM can present what skill needs to be tested to bring the party to a desired outcome, and the players can also suggest more.  Then one character makes the test, with potential (and game-rules-directed) assistance from the other characters.  After a rather involved series of steps and ways to have the test be successful (and it makes much more sense why there are so many steps once we got how few influential the few test rolls are), the party either succeeds or fails.

And then you narrate the heck out of how the party gets to that conclusion.

That there is the biggest shift to make to get Mouseguard… Setting the scene also includes setting how the scene will end.  Everyone around the table knows this outcome.  Armed with that knowledge, you all work to tell the most interesting story you can come up with for how it all plays out.

Wow.

I think this is quite cool.  And I’d say definitively the most narrative angle of the narrative-RPGs I’ve played.  There’s a certain liberation in starting the scene knowing you will fail (or succeed, for that matter) – you can set up your failure much more intricately, much more delicately, and much more satisfyingly than wondering how you’ll do on that next skill test (and knowing there could be several more skill tests).  And since everyone knows, the whole group gets in on the act.  Maybe they all act in concert to foul things up, maybe one of them botches things, maybe they try valiantly but the environment gets them, maybe they lose big, maybe they just miss it by milimetres.  Interpersonal interactions can play a role, friends and enemies could be involved, it’s all open to play with.

Overall, I think this creates the potential for much richer stories.  Maybe it lends itself more towards mostly third-party narration versus acting things out, but I don’t know yet.  I’m excited to see how we play it out in our group.  Now that we’ve got the sequence down right, I’m sure we’ll begin to further grok the various intricacies between all the different inputs (persona points, fate points, beliefs, etc) and also use them in a much more rich manner.

For sure I’m still a big fan of the real-time and extemporaneous style of play, but this reverse-o way of playing has got me really eager to see what comes out of it.  I’ll let you all know how it turns out.

 

* While there’s usually no hard and game-rules enforced start to a scene, there is a certain point where the GM begins to describe things in more detail or with more urgency, often accompanied by the description of a new location.

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Gaming Thursday: Top Secret/SI (& NWO!)

July 6, 2017

I was all set to post about reading through Top Secret/SI tonight when I learned of some very exciting news:  TOP SECRET IS BACK!

The original creator of Top Secret, Merle Rasmussen, has teamed up with a few others to create Top Secret: New World Order, and it’s LIVE on Kickstarter right now!

Colour me stupendously excited.  I’ve backed it and eagerly await its release.  Judging by the couple of images at the Kickstarter, it appears it will be a dice pool system using dice sizes for rankings, in basic stats (Nerve, Suave, Pulse, Intellect, Reflex), spycraft (sigint, humint, techint, combat), and something else… roll 13+ to succeed.  We’ll have to wait and see.

But for now, back to…

Top Secret/SI (for Special Intelligence) popped out in 87.  Still quite enamoured with Top Secret, I snatched it up as soon as I heard about it, and dove into it.  It was a pretty big rules re-design, introducing and updating it to many of the ideas that were becoming prevalent in the RPG world.  Gone were the individual resolution systems for infiltration, interactions, and combat, replaced instead with a universal percentile resolution system with a target number of your Stat + Skill Level x5 +/- Modifiers.  One unique thing was how your base stat was determined, via a d60 +10 roll, with this added bit of if all your stats totaled  less than 275, you could add enough points to make them total 275.  Looking back, a somewhat interesting way of generating a starting target number with a max of 70% chance of basic success, but one that you were equally likely to roll that 70 to rolling a 20… and having yourself a nigh-well impossible chance of doing much at all with that stat, maxing out to 45 even with max skill levels… and worse, sometimes you had to roll 1/2 or even 1/4 stat…. yeah.  Don’t even try to do anything in that area of expertise with that character.

The character sheets, though, were awesome.  They came as a full-blown dossier, and cemented my love for game-enhancing feelies:

I just love that so much.  With all the space for photo, nationality, history, and more, it really brought the more “fluff” parts of the character to bear, and reminded that hey!  You’re playing an espionage game here.

One thing you’ll see on that dossier is the agent diagram with the hit boxes.  Each location had boxes equal to 10% of your CON score, and each point of damage would cross off the box.  Cross off all boxes in head or body location, and you were dead.  Other areas, and the body part was destroyed.  Much less abstract than “Hit Points” and really quite deadly.  Though at the same time a bit odd that the hands were their own hit location with just as much damage soaking capacity…

Right from the get-go, the campaign style of Top Secret/SI was turned up several notches compared to Top Secret, a much more Bond-esque and superspy type world with a big bad organization like SMERSH or SPECTRE, called WEB, and an equally large organization opposing it, named ORION.  To give a sense of the tone in a number of the published modules, I ended up running them in a superhero Champions game, and they fit right in.

What was also nifty is that, over time, TS/SI became TSR’s base system for modern day and near-future action.  Supplements expanded the range of campaign styles, including Commando for more combat-oriented, Rambo-like stories, and even FREE-Lancers, a light cyberpunk-esque style campaign.  I never really got into FREE-Lancers (which is a bit unexpected, given I loved me my Cyberpunk and Cyberpunk 2020 games), but I ate Commando up like candy.  My games became much more closely linked in tone to Mack Bolan and Phoenix Force books than suave James Bond types… though we never abandoned all the fun gadgets.  Looking back, a rather amusing mix.

Overall, I do remember that at the time TS/SI came out I was… not altogether happy.   I had a lot of “Why did they change that??”, an early curmudgeon/grognard type reaction.  And so I went forward with this kitbashed version that combined aspects from the original game with the SI edition.  Likely it was this total hot mess, but it served us well for many years.  With some distance in time and mental space, on the whole I’d say TS/SI mostly gained compared to the original release.  Even if it lost some of the uniqueness and flavour baked into the subsystems, the unified resolution mechanism in TS/SI was a plus.  The game put even more emphasis on your character’s RP aspects, and the damage boxes for hit locations made combat tense and interesting, and the aftereffects lingering.  It definitively had an impact on my thoughts on what made a good RPG system for years to come.

And now, it looks like I’m getting my wish to play a Top Secret game once again.  Come November, no way in heck I won’t be playing, and reviewing, TS/NWO.

Just call me codename:  BAGMAN

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Gaming Thursday

June 15, 2017

This… is all shades of both interesting/bizzare…

… and hilarious if you follow one of the comments’ suggestions and replace the redacted areas with classic D&D names:

“Vecna considers GYGAX to be eccentric . . .”

“Tiamat added that . . .”

“Mordenkainen advised that GYGAX…”

“… his knowledge of “The Tomb of Horrors”, also known as FRESNO.”