The Warren: City Park

On Sunday night I was scheduled to run an episode of Blue Rose, but for a variety of reasons this was not a good time emotionally-speaking. However, the whole group was available and eager to play so instead I ran a light-hearted adventure of The Warren (Bully Pulpit Games) by Marshall Miller. This game a sort of Bunnnies & Burrows powered by the Apocalypse, very easy to run with minimum preparation,

I used the “City Park” playset created by Kristin Firth and Eric Mersmann. It’s based on Central Park in New York but we decided to set it in Austin, Texas instead. This matter because of the weather, wildlife, plants, etc. Because it had been a crappy week, we agreed to make it more My Little Bunny than Watership Down.

Our Rabbits

Nutmeg the Thumper (female), a Strong rabbit; a young, energetic, go-getter, with a short-haired white coat and a black streak. She had an ongoing dispute with Oakley the squirrel, who kept getting to the best acorns first. Played by April.

  • Character Move: Thumper. When you cuff, kick, or knock another rabbit about, you may roll +Strong instead of +Shrewd when you Speak Plainly.

Pip the Swift Runner (male), a Swift rabbit, young and overconfident; the best runner in the warren, he would do anything on a dare. Played by Adi.

  • Character Move: Swift Runner. You have never met an animal you couldn’t outrun. When you Bolt, treat a roll of 6- as a 7-9.

Fluffy the Hutchwise (male), Shrewd rabbit despite being less than a year old: given to a child as an Easter gift, but left in the park to “run free with his rabbit friends” when the realities of caring for a house rabbit sank in. Known for his long soft coat, and floppy ears, a bit unkempt at this point. His rival for expertise on humans was an escaped laboratory rabbit called 76, with a very different perspective.

  • Character Move: Hutchwise. Raised in a cage or hutch, you are familiar with humans’ routines and mysteries. When you Pay Attention to humans, add “Why do humans do that?” to the list of questions you can ask. The GM will tell you a truth and a falsehood—pick whichever is more interesting or useful.

Peanut the Pigeon-Speaker (female), a Steady and experienced rabbit, currently pregnant. Her short coat’s shades of gray and ring marking around the neck made her look uncannily like a pigeon, so she had forged a bond with them.

  • Character Move: Circles of Life. The fight for survival makes for some strange bedfellows. When you first use this move, choose another type of animal with which you have history and rapport.
Continue reading “The Warren: City Park”

Big Bad Con is the best! – Part 2

(This is my continued recap of my weekend at Big Bad Con.)

Saturday Switcheroo

I woke up and showered groggily. Edmund got to the hotel to set up for the first instance of his Mutants & Masterminds game, “The League of Extraordinary Felines – 1854.” I went to get us coffee at the ad-hoc counter near the Big Bad Con registration desk ($4.00 for drip coffee… I know BBC offers free coffee but I was too groggy to find it!) and new buttons for completing playbooks in Big Bad World.

After taking his coffee and button to Edmund, I went to the Teens Room where my friend Christine’ Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game was scheduled. I so wanted to play this game! the premise was awesome: set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, you are trying to break the Avengers from their cells on the Raft, the mobile supermax prison. And Christine is a great GM. But unfortunately, she only had two players show up and that was just too few for the adventure to work.

Christine and I decided to go pick up boarding passes for Games on Demand, so we could at least play together. We ended up in Brian Williams’ game of Juggernaut (Bully Pulpit Games.) Brian played the bureaucratic Mr. Brasseau, Aaron was the visionary Dr. Takahashi, Ian play the detached Dr. Dörflinger, Tom played the shadowy Simms, Christine played the earnest Dr. Chandrakar, and I was the results-minded Major Van Der Meer. And of course Juggernaut was always right.

Christine and I met with folk, including my husband Edmund, Christine’s husband Alan, and our friend Adi, when we took a break for lunch. We were hurrying to get back to Games on Demand for the next time block and restaurant service was slow. Amidst the hustle and bustle thanks to the large number of people trying to sign up for GoD, we were unable to get Adi, Christine, Edmund, and I seated at the same game. Christine and Edmund decided to go home (Christine to her adorable three-year-old, Edmund to our elderly cats), and Adi and I landed in a game of Dungeon World (Sage Kobold Productions.)

Our party was composed of Simon, playing Thalian the elven fighter; Adi, playing Kaylin Moravis the elven ranger; William, playing Jez the vulpine (kitsune– or anthropomorphic fox-like) bard; [Name Withheld], playing Rikrakrok the gnome wizard; and me, playing Lynniel Bonebreaker the barbarian.

The game was run by Arthur Berman, a first-time visitor to Big Bad Con. I thought he was a great GM: considerate, clear, smart, quick to think on his feet, and well-versed about his game. I hope he will come back to Big Bad Con! He had a a difficult player to deal with but handled it well. [Name Withheld] was creative and enthusiastic but turned out to be uninterested in listening to anyone but himself. He did not play well with others.

[Name Withheld], this note is for you: I know this was your first time playing a game Powered by the Apocalypse, and I also suspect you’re pretty young (but I’m not good at guessing age.) You are smart and have a lot of fun ideas, and I hope you soon learn to listen to other people around the table—and not just in games, either. You will have much more fun and make friends when you start bouncing these ideas with others, and make others shine in the game as much you want to shine yourself.

In the mean time, my barbarian ended collapsing the cursed temple onto Rikrakrok the gnome wizard’s head and mine, rather than let its mojo fall into an enemy’s hands. I met Death and was turned into a paladin of Order!

After the game I said goodbye to Adi, who was going to have dinner with her husband and adorable kid, and went to my room for a nap before the game I was running from 8pm to midnight. I ordered room service so I could get dinner while reviewing my game notes.

Then I went to the scheduled room and ran Alas for the Awful Sea (Storybrewers Roleplaying) for three wonderful players: Manuel, who played Luther the old sea dog; Jacob, who played Captain Zacharias Nielsen; and Ariel, who played Mrs. Pleasance Houston, a merchant. I will post a detailed game summary later, but in short the game went well; I had a blast and I think the players enjoyed it too.

Tomorrow: Sunday Supers!

Night Witches: Wrap-up and Mini-Review

Yesterday we brought our Night Witches campaign to a close, as the war ended in Europe with Germany’s surrender. Here is a quick look back at the campaign, followed by my review of the game itself.

Campaign Highlights

  • The 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation RegimentAmazingly, four of the seven original characters made it out alive (Maryam, Elena, Vera, and Oksana, played by Edmund, Steve, Alan, and Sophie.) For a while now Elena had been close to taking her last mark — “Embrace death and find your final destiny” — so we were all trying to keep her from meeting the bad premonitions she’d been having!
  • Of the others, two players had to drop so their characters (Yulia and Valentina, played by Christine and April) were technically still alive.
  • One new character (Anya, played by Adi) had appeared after the earlier tragic death of an airwoman (Sveta, also played by Adi).

Most of us took a turn at being game-master for one duty station or another, which gave us a chance to learn GMing tricks from each other. I really liked that, and I know I will use some of these techniques with other games.

The most marking events in the campaign, the dramatic fulcrum, were Elena forced by circumstances to kill a German prisoner to save him from a worse fate, followed by Sveta abandoning hope and dying in a subsequent mission. We had tragic loves, stormy friendships, splendid bravery, and wistful secrets.

We all stamped our mark on the squadron: Maryam was our fearless leader, fiercely protective of her airwomen; Elena was the career communist, slowly losing both faith and ambition; Vera was the cheerful pragmatist who always had a trick up her sleeve; Yulia was the sweet young recruit painfully hardened by war; Sveta was the tough-minded survivor who lost her zest for life after one too many tragedies; Oksana was the secret romantic who always tried to have her sisters’ backs; Valentina was the wild rebel; and Anya was the gutsy late-addition to the squadron, trying to make her place without being pushed around.

Mini-Review: Night Witches

Hardcover book and card deck, Night Witches RPGThe role-playing game Night Witches was written by Jason Morningstar and released by Bully Pulpit Games in January 2015 after a successful Kickstarter funding campaign ($48,806 pledged, well surpassing the $5,000 goal.) The game is Powered by the Apocalypse.

The Good

Night Witches brings its own refinements to the basic structure introduced by Apocalypse World. For example, the general moves are divided between those taking place during the day and largely involving caring for the regiment, your own squadron, the airwomen and the planes; and moves used during the night missions to accomplish mission objectives and survive encounters with the enemy. Several day moves allow the players, if they so wish, to accumulate “mission points” which can be used one-for-one to add to rolls on night moves.

These general moves are well designed to daisy-chain and create story material. Combined with the handouts supplied by the publisher for duty stations, missions, Witch-y things that can happen, period history, lists of names, etc., these make the GM’s game preparation very easy. No need to plan for complex story arcs, just sow some seeds and the story will happen. Like all PbtA games, it does require that everyone be willing and able to improvise in response to other players’ choices and any triggered moves.

Night Witches book and card deckThe setting is fantastic, of course. The game’s focus on the experiences of women in one of the most brutal theatres of this exceedingly brutal war is new, refreshing, and challenges a lot of role-playing tropes. The fact that it is also historical, documented, real makes it resonate all the more. If you want to expand from the useful notes on the period provided in the book and handouts, there is a wealth of material available (free or inexpensive), including patriotic music and amazing Soviet and German maps of the era.

Finally, I also got the optional card deck that supplements the book with character portraits, play aids for flight missions, medals, and quick-start character background elements. As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for visual aids and this one combines art by Claudia Cangini (portraits) and Rich Longmore (plane schematics) with vintage Soviet playing card deck backs!

The Bad

Like most other PbtA games, Night Witches‘ character creation process centres around playbooks, essentially templates with a menu of options each character can choose from. There are only five playbooks or “Natures” to pick from: Owl, Raven, Hawk, Pigeon, and Sparrow. You are encouraged to include as many as you can in the game, but you can have more than one player using the same Nature. You can never go back and change a character’s Nature, however. Each has its own special moves.

After picking your Nature, you choose one of six Roles (Adventurer, Misanthrope, Leader, Zealot, Dreamer, and Protector) which will also give you access to a special move. Roles can change throughout a character’s life.

Unfortunately, the Natures did not feel intuitive for anyone in our group and the special moves granted by Natures and Roles were not as fitting as they might have been.Most of us ended up picking very few advancements from the special moves available to use, preferring to get promotions, improve stats, or forge and change bonds. I believe every character still in play at the end had used their one opportunity to go get a special move from a different playbook, reinforcing the sense we got that playbooks did not hang together in a satisfying way.

In some other PbtA games, such as Monsterhearts, Dungeon World, Monster of the Week, or Masks, the playbooks correspond to easily-grasped archetypes and the special moves fit well with them so that you have little trouble figuring out “what my character would do.” Then again, the game that started it all, Apocalypse World, contains playbooks and associated moves that I found difficult to understand (e.g., the Battle Babe that doesn’t actually, y’know, battle), so as they say: your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, if there is ever a second editions I would recommend revising the Natures, Roles, and associated moves.

Overall Assessment

Hero of the Soviet Union medalThis is a memorable game that has produced intense episodes in our campaign as well as in one-off convention games. I have never had a boring session. It’s easy enough for a GM to pick up and run, provided you familiarize yourself with the PbtA style. (For example, a GM has to realize that she never needs to roll dice in these games — the players do all the dice rolling.) Five of us took our turn at the helm during the campaign, including two that had never game-mastered a PbtA game, and everybody did a bang-up job.

This is not the kind of game book that provides extensive setting material (for example, most GURPS sourcebooks); it offers well thought-out summaries and sketches, just enough for the reader to understand the situation without getting mired in detail. (Naturally, our group of geeks immediately turned to historical sources and went down the rabbit hole of research!) For my style of GMing, the amount of material was just right.

Yes, there are wrinkles around the playbooks, but they are not show-stoppers. Perhaps fan-made playbooks will appear and add the finishing touch to this already amazing game.

Fiasco: Nextwave comes crashing down!

Nextwave_issue_11Tonight we played the second act of a Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games) episode using the Heroes of Pinnacle City playset written by Ryan Consell, Josh Hoey, Anna Kreider, and Kit Kreider, to simulate Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

We had as much fun as we had in the first act; let’s just say that the portal which the Bloodstone family had been supposed to guard re-opened in Daeseong-dong, bringing hordes of doppelgangers of The Captain, and Pulgasari himself! Despite Nextwave nearly starting World War III, and Monica very publicly insulting the Avengers, Aaron Stacks managed to end up on top as the Avengers’ new leader…

pulgasari

Fiasco: Nextwave!

Tonight we played a Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games) episode using the Heroes of Pinnacle City playset written by Ryan Consell, Josh Hoey, Anna Kreider, and Kit Kreider, to simulate Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

We had a blast. Several, actually. The characters were Aaron Stack, Elsa Bloodstone, The Captain, and Monica Rambeau. Here is a shot of the Roll20 board as we reached the tilt phase; we’ll have the second half of the game in a couple of weeks. Roll20 works really well, you can set the colour of your dice and then drag them on the board.

That was game no. 21 of #61in16 for me, and 22 players out of #36in16.

Fiasco: Nextwave!

RPG a Day: Recently played

FiascoMobile6. Most recent RPG played

Last week we played Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games) using the “Los Angeles 1936” playset by Chris Bennett.

#RPGaDay2015playset_los_angeles_1936

RPG a Day: Recent acquisition

5. Most recent RPG purchase

the-warren-sampleI guess that would have to be The Warren (Bully Pulpit Games), since the Kickstarter just ended and the money left my account. Think Watership Down + Bunnies & Burrows + powered by the Apocalypse.

#RPGaDay2015

RPG a Day: Hex Crawl…

NW13. Favourite new game in the last 12 months
That’s really tough. I think I’ll have to pick Night Witches from Bully Pulpit Games.

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