My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 4

Sunday

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Regional map
Initially I had not signed up for anything on Sunday morning because I feared con exhaustion might set in by then. But I woke up in plenty of time to make the 9AM games so I grabbed a free coffee at the registration table and signed up for Brian Vo’s “It Makes A Village,” which sounded like Dungeon World meets The Quiet Year. Spoiler alert: it was. Our characters were:
  • Tenrissa the gnome artificer and tinkerer (played by Joey);
  • Matais the human fighter and village carpenter (played by Matt);
  • Elizabeth “Lizzie” Silverstone the elf bard who lived above the bakery (played by Summer);
  • Odd Ev the human thief, secret Santa to the village, who did odd jobs (played by Jim); and
  • Ysolde the human mage and would-be schoolmistress (played by me).
Continue reading “My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 4”

My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 3

Saturday

For my Saturday I had scheduled an array of playtests, all games currently being designed by people I love. I started with (Abyssal), a game Forged in the Dark by my friends and colleagues Ash Cheshire and Edward Turner. The premise:
Whenever humans build cities, they create shadows… hidden, dark places beneath the surface, where creatures that aren’t human gather. Some might call them monsters, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But you? You don’t belong to the surface or the shadows. You are in-between… cursed, or infected, or bitten but not yet turned. You stand at the edge of the abyss. Will you hold on to your humanity at all costs, or will you embrace the change that is happening to you?
It was cool to be the first outside group ever to playtest this. There were three settings to explore: Paris, 1793; London, 1888; or Las Vegas, 1971, and the players were asked to pick. Continue reading “My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 3”

My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 1

Last weekend was the eighth edition of Big Bad Con. I have had the privilege of attending every single instance and even to be part of the staff for the last few ones. It’s my very favourite weekend of the year, my Christmas. In the last 25 years I have worked for many other conventions (organized events, volunteered, or been on staff) and attended many more, but Big Bad Con is different. It launched in 2011 with a mission to build community among tabletop and live-action role-players. Within a few years, this expanded to mean more: to make the community welcoming to all and particularly to marginalized, vulnerable, under-represented groups. Here are a few of the practical steps taken:  Continue reading “My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 1”

Playtest: Dream Askew

Yesterday I got a chance to play Avery Alder’s Dream Askew (Buried Without Ceremony) for the first time. We tried a playtest of the new edition for which a Kickstarter funding campaign was ending today (you can still pre-order through the page afterwards.) The book is going to contain two takes on the system:

  • Dream Askew proper, where you play members of a queer enclave in a post-apocalypse setting (written by Avery);
  • Dream Apart, where you play inhabitants of a Jewish shtetl in a fantastical-historical Eastern Europe (written by Benjamin Rosenbaum).

Both make me want to play, and I hope to have a chance to try Dream Apart soon. The art looks wonderful for both settings, and amazing contributors have been added through stretch goals. I expect the final result to be a delight.

Preparation

In addition to the playtest materials available on her website, Avery was also kind enough to share a draft of the “How to Play” chapter for our playtest. I love how caring, generous and thoughtful Avery’s writing is. The chapter provides advice for the play environment and behaviours, not just the mechanical aspects.  Continue reading “Playtest: Dream Askew”

Listen to the Return of Castle Falkenstein!

I’ve been a fan of Castle Falkenstein since 1994 when I grabbed a copy of the newly released role-playing game. I have run it straight at the table and online, I’ve adapted it for alternate systems such as Theatrix, PDQ, and Fate Core (though I’m still unenthusiastic about the spellcasting rules in the latter, need to think more about them). For many old gamers like me, R. Talsorian Games‘ Castle Falkenstein represented a sea change at the time, no longer concentrating on dice rolling and stat values as much as the fiction created around the player characters.

Although the original Castle Falkenstein books are long out of print, they were eventually scanned and released as PDF versions on DriveThruRPG. But until recently, the latest supplement released by RTG had been, if memory serves, The Memoirs of Auberon of Faerie in 1998; and a GURPS Castle Falkenstein supplement, The Ottoman Empire, had been released by Steve Jackson Games under license circa 2000.

This changed last year, when RTG allowed up-and-coming Fat Goblin Games to create and publish additional materials. Since last October, writer J Gray — long-time Falkenstein fan — has authored four supplements: Curious Creatures, a bestiary; The Tarot Variation, an alternate rule system for sorcery that uses a tarot deck instead of a regular playing cards; The Second Tarot Variation, which extends the use of tarot cards to all action; and Firearms and Margarine, an adventure.

J Gray is also a great person — and a great GM. Along with my husband, I’ve had the chance to play in J’s current online game. We’re alpha-playtesting a series of new alternate mechanic options that will allow customization of the Castle Falkenstein system for GMs who like to tinker. J has been recording the the episodes so far and releasing them as a podcast. You can see the campaign site on Obsidian Portal, and listen to the episodes on Fat Goblin GamesPresents. That will give you a preview of some of the rules we’re testing so you can try them too!

Zeppelin Attack! and other weekend fun

Zeppelin Attack!I confess, I did very little that was actually productive this weekend. I needed the R&R—it’s been hectic at work. The weekend went thus: Friday: play in Edmund’s playtest of my game, the War of Ashes RPG. It’s run via Skype and I have little effort to make since I’m merely a player, not the game master. Saturday: get a haircut, have pot-luck lunch and a game of our DramaSystem series, “To End All Wars,” then go out for teppan with a friend. Sunday: go see Guardians of the Galaxy for a second time on the big screen, and try a game of Zeppelin Attack! since we just got our copy this week along with the Doomsday Weapons expansion.

Zeppelin Attack! can be played with 2 to 4 players, but it was just Edmund and I. We picked our villains at random, I drew Jacqueline Frost and Edmund got Walking Mind. We did many things wrong which we corrected in play, but it’s clear that this is a game that will take a few tries to learn properly. We didn’t really start seeing the synergies between cards until the end. I say “end”, but really we just had to call it and stop because it was getting late. Nevertheless, it seems like there is a lot of tactical play possible. It’s more limited with just two players, I think it will be more fun with three or four because then you have to split your attack and defence strategies.

Playtest Report: Monster of the Week

Monster of the Week coverI’ve talked a few times about the role-playing game Apocalypse World (Lumpley Games, 2010), especially here and here. This month, I get to playtest Generic Games’ hack of the AW system, Monster of the Week, in its most recent version. It’s a short turnaround playtest effort organized by Generic Games’ partner in the U.S., Evil Hat Productions; my understanding is that this new edition will be a chance to release a high-quality print version in the U.S. at reasonable cost, rather than have the choice between good printing but expensive shipping costs from New Zealand, or more affordable but lower quality print-on-demand copies from Lulu.It’s also a chance for author Michael Sands to fine-tune his game.

Like the popular AW hack Monsterhearts, Monster of the Week is meant to emulate urban horror series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Supernatural, The X Files, The Dresden Files, or Twenty Palaces. However, where Monsterhearts focuses on the teen angst aspects, MotW places the emphasis on action drama. This is much more to my taste, I like Scooby-Doo stuff for grown-ups.

The game provides a re-write and re-skin of the AW moves, completely different playbooks, a richer History phase that solidly ties the player characters (“Hunters”), and a new stat called Luck that provides resilience but also moves Hunters gradually towards the ultimate fate. Experience is changed from the first edition; while it originally followed the AW model with experience gained for using stats highlighted by other players each episode, it’s now earned for every failed roll instead like in Dungeon World (Sage Kobold Productions, 2012), an approach I like much better. Instead of your character growing for acting out other people’s choices, you now have an incentive to accept failure, which is very true to genre and easier to track.

Another change is that the GM (“Keeper”) uses “mysteries” instead of fronts to create the opposition. They’re mysteries in the most basic sense that they start with something unknown with an agenda, not in the sense of necessitating involved investigative skills like an Agatha Christie murder mystery. Each mystery includes at least one monster, one or more minions, some bystanders, and some locations. A starter mystery is provided, and Generic Games & Evil Hat Productions requested it be playtested, along with the Keeper advice for how to set up a first session. The mystery is called “Dream Away the Time” and is set in the cute New England town of Handfast. This review will contain spoilers, so I’ll place the rest after the cut.

[SPOILERS BELOW.] Continue reading “Playtest Report: Monster of the Week”

War of Ashes RPG: Game on!

GranthamHall-02

I just went through two playtest sessions of the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions: one tabletop game this weekend and one Skype-based session with a different group. So far, a few rough edges rules-wise but everyone is having a blast with ZombieSmith’s setting. I thought I’d share our set up at the end of our Skype game: using the whiteboard app Vyew.com, the grey boxes are zones, the yellow ones are aspects we created in play. The three little markers are our characters. (Click on the image to see bigger version.)

Credits:  Art for the markers © ZombieSmith 2013, used with permission.

Playtesting War of Ashes RPG!

Iva the StubbornEdmund singed up for the beta playtest phase of the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions. It’s curious and interesting to see someone else use the material without any input on my part (I’m staying hands-off.) he ran one via Skype last Monday and I listened in on part of the game; it sounded hilarious. Afterwards, he recapped it thus:

TONIGHT ON “THE GODS WHO LOVE TOO MUCH” the protagonists (Boegert  an Elvorix rasta priest and Liekenen, a Kuld scholar) – both members of the Society of Stone, meet with their contact (“the old one”) at the Bigg Inn – an establishment soon to be overrun by rampaging Kuld and filled with desperate refugees, escaping soldiers, and naer-do-wells.  The Old One gives them a task – to travel north to a long abandoned estate known as Grantham House, there to recover an ancient book called “How Things Work” before it can be devoured by the Kuldish horde.

Before they can embark on their assigned task, however, they are ambushed by strange Elvorix wearing dark cloaks to hide their glowing eyes.  Neither of the protagonists are skilled fighters, but manage to escape on stolen Guldul.  Likenein even manages to slay one of the attacking Elvorix, only to discover that the body is filled not with blood, but with ash. (also, it doesn’t taste very good).

Riding (very, very slowly) North the pair come to the lands of Grantham, where they discover that there is no life whatsoever, even in those things which appear alive.  Boegert summons the power of his healing herb and goes on a vision quest, in which he sees a huge volcano explode and cover an island with ash, burying entire cities, from which rise creatures with glowing red eyes.

Tune in next week for installment 2 of THE GODS WHO LOVE TOO MUCH!

I get to join in a tabletop test this afternoon with a different group and different characters. Again, I didn’t get involved with game planning but I did create a sheet of paper minis I’m pleased with. I need to check with ZombieSmith whether I can share it publicly, though.

It’s interesting to hear the preliminary feedback and to notice things differently now that I am re-reading the draft. I’ve already made notes for a number of inconsistencies to fix, generated by our last-minutes system changes. A number of rules I’d been trying when I ran the alpha playtest were replaced, so this will likely feel quite different today.

Credits:  Art © ZombieSmith 2013, used with permission.

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple — Playtest notes

Do-Fate-BannerI’ve been remiss in publishing my playtest notes for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple. My two feeble excuses are (1) how busy I’ve been, and (2) the vain hope I had of cramming in more play sessions.

I ran Do:Fate of the Flying Temple for my husband Edmund, our friend Paul, and Paul’s ten-year-old son Kaito. We had all played the other game it’s based on, Daniel Solis’s Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. In fact, this is how we got the memorable quote from Kaito, trying to remind his father that they own that book: “It’s the brown book with the kid with the really spongy hair and the very green dragon!”

The adventure begins when the pilgrims return to the Flying Temple after answering a letter, only to discover that the Temple has disappeared. Left behind is a single dragon egg (cue the Targaryen jokes), which of course will soon hatch—and spit out a letter petitioning the Flying Temple for help. As part of the playtest setup, we were assigned the adventure “The Worlds Collide” by Colin Fredericks (found on p. 34 in Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.)

The pilgrims’ players get to give the dragon some aspects, and more will be created in play as the pilgrims answer more letters. The dragon is supposed to learn and grow from the pilgrims’ actions and reflect their choices for better and for worse. It’s a built-in way to show the players what their characters have accomplished and where they are headed.

Our three pilgrims were Hard Flame (Kaito), who helped people with his mastery of fire and got in trouble by trying too hard; Marked Ghost (Paul), who helped people with his powers as a medium who spoke to the dead, and got in trouble by being Chosen of the Flying Temple; and Unseen Slug (Edmund), who helped people by being hard to notice and got in trouble by being slow of mind and body (he flipped banner and avatar, but I never noticed at the time; he just liked the name and was trying to pick aspects that would go with it.) I had made the character sheet forms to help with the character creation process.

Even with the background from Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, it was a little hard to get the game concepts across to Kaito, who is at the age of munchkinery and was trying very hard to game the system to have only advantages and no real trouble, or at least export his trouble onto others. He thinks in terms of computer games—bonuses, attacks, and powers—so he had an easier time grasping stunts than the more abstract aspects and approaches. He had a hard time committing to a choice, clearly worried that he was not optimizing as much as he could (which is funny, because even in this more power-based sort of game he’s not very good yet at optimizing, but hey, he’s ten.)

Things went a little long when it was time to pick dragon aspects, but they ended up creating Marmalade the orange dragon, with the aspects Elemental Earth Dragon, Inherited Wisdom of the Ages, and Guardian of the Diamond. I had also assigned the aspect Colliding Worlds to the adventure and made it visible for all to use, and of course the overarching The Flying Temple is Missing! aspect was in play.

Unfortunately, the game kept being interrupted by phone calls, text messages, and even a guest who arrived much earlier than expected. With each distraction, Kaito’s mind wandered a little more as well, so it was increasingly difficult to return to the game. This was compounded by the letter we had received, which was not one I would have recommended for this group. The problem was not immediate enough to hold the group’s attention, the language too flowery for Kaito, and no one could keep the faction, planet, and character names straight.

While the final interruption (the guest) put an end to the adventure and prevented us from finishing, we did have A number of aspects created in play, including Big Chunks of Eggshell (a boost), Friendly Ghosts in the Area, We Must Destroy Ishita, and another boost, It’s Bright and Clear, Now! which referred to the weather. I was getting the sense that the resolution was moving towards picking a side in the collision, not avoiding it.

We did not get a chance to try the Elegant Defense manoeuvre, an innovation of the game, nor to see the results of the lessons on Marmalade the dragon. Nevertheless, I want to try the game again because I think it’s very simple and elegant, but my gaming time has been severely rationed.

Image by Liz Radtke, first created for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.