Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead

Our game of The Mountain Witch ended last night, which was a session earlier than I had originally planned. The players just grabbed the reins and kicked it into overdrive, however, so I’m not at all disappointed that it did. I feel like making it last another session would have destroyed the great momentum we had created.

As usual, several ronin ended up dead, and as usual, all of the deaths were at the hands of the other player characters. In this case it was Roy’s character (Hanjo) killed Ted’s (Asano) because the Witch promised to free the soul of a man he had caused to become an angry ghost. Asano and Tsune (Christina’s character) had already managed to kill the Witch, but its malevolent spirit lingered for a few moments, giving Hanjo hope the deal might still be honored. Alas, Hanjo was cut down by Mike’s ronin, who had sworn revenge on Hanjo for killing his wife. All in all, it was a fine ending.

I definitely understood the game better this time around, and I’m glad that I ran it again. In fact, we’d all like to play it again, now that we’ve got a little experience with it under our belts. A big change for me was that I didn’t know what people’s Dark Fates were, and I think that greatly improved the game for me. It gave the players a lot more responsibility, because the burden to foreshadow their Fate had to be carried by them alone. There was a fun “feeling out” process that we went through as people would give hints as to what their Fate might be and I would respond with provocative scene framing or stakes. When it happened accidentally, it was even better. Ted had the “Worst Fear” card, and he decided that Asano was terrified of the restless dead. He had dropped several hints, but when they group was attacked by zombies, it just took off.

The other thing I learned this time around (and here’s where my improv classes are starting to peek through) is that Dark Fates work best when players use them to engage the other players. They’re not called Dark Secrets, and there’s a reason for that. My advice to future players is to find ways that make your Dark Fate something that the other players can play off of. It shouldn’t be something that’s purely between you and the GM.

And don’t forget, the Witch is a MacGuffin. The GM’s goal isn’t just to threaten the players. The goal is to make that by the time they get to the Witch the ronin have sufficient reason to kill each other.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Little Behind, Part 2

I only managed to play in one RPG event at OrcCon, but it was a doozy. My friend (and RPG department co-supervisor) Denys decided to run a campaign game spanning the three conventions a year that make up the Strategicon family. He’s running three duplicate sessions per convention, each with a major decision point in the middle. The outcome of those games determines which direction the “canonical” storyline goes. That sounded cool enough, but when he told me it would be a Middle-Earth game using the HeroQuest rules, I had to play. The game is set around T.A. 1974, the last days of the Kingdom of Arthedain, and the central action of the game involves the fight against the Witch-King of Angmar. I played Peledur, nephew of King Arvedui, which basically meant I got to angst it up. That’s not entirely true, but my portrayal of him centered strongly around the ideas of fate and duty. It was fun afterward to compare notes with the other players (including Ted, whom I have mentioned here before) who had run him through the same circumstances in the two earlier sessions. There was lots of good mood in the game, and I look forward to the next installment.

Speaking of mood, last week’s session of The Mountain Witch had it in spades. Most of the session centered on the ronin telling each other ghost stories while they were trapped in a ruined shrine during a snowstorm. There was some great character work, including one outright revelation of a Dark Fate. The session ended with the ronin finally entering the fortress of the Witch, so while the session lacked action, I suspect this week’s episode will have it in spades.

And speaking of action, my involvement with the Durga’s Ironhelms campaign ended with a bang last week. Following the Markus’ Day celebration in our honor, the company decided to step up our recruiting efforts. Unfortunately, the rumors my character had been spreading about our successes and the vengeance we had sworn again Khador (and Queen Ayn Vanar herself), came back to haunt us. Three of our would-be recruits turned out to be Greylords (think KGB wizards). The four of us turned out to be vastly overwhelmed, and the session ended with everyone unconscious and in an obscuring mist. I took this opportunity to exit the game, not because I wasn’t having fun, but because I need my Wednesday evenings back. I’ll be curious to see what happens to the rest of the company, but for now the game is going on without out me.

And now I’m up to date. Hooray!

A Little Behind, Part 1

The last ten days have been really good for me gaming-wise and not so good for me blogging-wise. I'll try to catch up, covering board games first and roleplaying in the next post.

OrcCon was a blast, and despite my convention commitments I still managed to get in a few games. On Friday afternoon I played a prototype dice game with the convention's Guest of Honor, Reiner Knizia. It was fun but a little long, and the post-game discussion of how to make it shorter was interesting. Friday evening I hooked up with Don and Derek from Pulp Gamer to play a quick game of Mission: Red Planet in the bar. I won, but I probably shouldn't have. I say this for two reasons. First, I didn't play very well, and second, due to confusing language in the rules, we scored the game wrong. I think I still would have won without the error, but it would have been much closer. Anyway, it was fun and extremely light, but I could see people having problems with the luck factor.

Saturday I managed to fit in a game of Memoir '44 while I minded the RPG signup table. I squeaked out a narrow victory in the Sainte Mere-Eglise scenario on both sides, which always makes me feel good. I still love this game, especially for the excitement-to-time ratio.

Sunday I convinced Doug Sun (whom I had met at GenCon SoCal and played Wellington with) that he needed to teach me how to play Combat Commander: Europe. He agreed. This was my first look at Combat Commander, but the similarity to ASL Starter Kit #1 helped me pick it up quickly. Sadly, I think that similarity might prevent me from picking it up, as I don't know if Ted (my usual wargame opponent) will want to play it instead of ASL. Regardless, I liked it, and I look forward to playing more of it at the GMT warehouse in April.

Monday I participated in two more playtests with Dr. Knizia, this time for a game that's pretty far along in development. I enjoyed it, and I'll be curious to see what the final scoring mechanism ends up looking like. Overall, I had a great time at OrcCon, and I can't wait until Gamex in May.

Since then I've done a little bit more gaming. Gwen and I tried out Battle Line last night, as we had just gotten it in a trade. It turned out to be much more "thinky" than I expected. It was ok, but certainly not as addictive as Lost Cities. (Then again, what is?)

Finally, OrcCon made me remember how much I want to play more Memoir '44, so I brought it in to work to play with Jason, my frequent lunchtime opponent. We wanted something a little lighter than Paths of Glory, and Memoir '44 fit the bill nicely. We played both sides of the Pegasus Bridge scenario, and he seemed to like it, so I expect I'll be playing more of that in the coming weeks.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Long Time Coming

This week I finished up two board games that took longer than normal to play. The first was a game of Hacienda that I played on Spiel by Web. I'd never used SBW before, but Eric Burgess (of Boardgame Babylon) was in India for work and needed some connection back to the world of gaming to keep him sane, so I decided to give it a try. Hacienda is well-suited to play via web, as there's relatively little player interaction, and it's not overly long. Even with Eric being timeshifted from us, we still managed to play the entire game in about two weeks. It was an interesting experience, though I still don't think I like the game with five players. At that number it's just a little too cutthroat. And I definitely prefer it on the irregular board.

I also finished up the game of Paths of Glory I've been playing at work over lunch. I lost, through several really poor choices that I made in the last few turns. I still play too aggressively, though I did much better in the early game than I usually do. I'm still learning a lot about the game, and it's creeping up my ratings list. If only it didn't take quite so long to play.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Four Samurai

Last night was the first session (not counting last week's planning session) of our game of The Mountain Witch. I've run the game once before at convention, and I'm excited to be running it again. I drove a little too much last night, as we got used to the system and the pacing mechanics, but I suspect that won't be too much of an issue in the final two sessions. We talked about it afterward, and the players are ready to take over. There's already been some foreshadowing of Dark Fates, though I still have no idea who has which cards. I'm also really glad that I read Kwaidan before I started the game, as I stole mercilessly from it for last night's action (though Wikipedia now tells me that what Lafcadio Hearn misidentifies as rokurokubi are technically called nukekubi). It was a good first session, and I'm looking forward to taking a more reactive role next as the players start driving.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Flame On

Yesterday I played in a one-shot of Wild Talents, Dennis Detwiller and Greg Stolze's superheroes game built on the rules engine from Godlike. I've been wanting to play Godlike for a while now, so I was excited when Andrew posted to the Santa Barbara Gaming list about it. He had laid out about two pages of setting material ahead of time, but character creation started from pretty much a blank slate when we showed up. I was pleased at how quickly (relatively speaking) we were able to get through that, even if my character concept didn't completely solidify until halfway through play. I opted for a character with a single power, Create Fire, and dumped about half of my points into it. As a result, I was devastatingly effective at creating fire, to the extent that there was a pretty good chance I could take down our brick in two rounds. This made it all the more amusing that I didn't end up using my power until the final scene.

Character creation was nice and speedy, as I've said, and the resolution mechanics are as well. In play, Wild Talents occupies a nice middle ground between HERO/GURPS on one end the spectrum and Truth & Justice on the other. It allows for more character differentiation and tactical options than T&J does, but it moves much, much faster than HERO or GURPS. I liked it, though I think I prefer it on the lower power end. It is, as Ted observed, a fairly game-y sytstem, which is certainly a change from what I've been doing recently. I may have to think about running a Godlike game at some point.

Outside of the system, I have to say that it was one of the best GMed games I've played in a while. Andrew had a great sense of what was going on with everyone at all times and really kept things moving. It took me a while to figure out my character's personality (I started out a little too Liz Sherman-esque and drifted in very different direction), but that was really my own problem. As I've said, it's hard for me to just be a player, but I had really good time in this one. So, yes, it was a good afternoon. I should do more of those.