Just finished listening to the enlightening conversation between Backstory podcast host Alex Roberts and the…
Just finished listening to the enlightening conversation between Backstory podcast host Alex Roberts and the Gauntlet’s Lauren McManamon . Topics covered include consent in games, smashing the patriarchy, and Kakapo — NZ’s amazing flightless parrots! Lauren & Jesse Ross ‘s game Girl Underground has under 24 hours left on Kickstarter so I recommend you check it out ASAP! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jesseross/girl-underground-zine-quest
Howdy! I wanted to share this play test report by Kai Poh about a hack of Honey Heist called Magic Swords — a micro-game where you play (you guessed it) magic swords trying to break out of a dungeon! Kai also gives us a quick peek into the flourishing Malaysian design scene — with such tantalizing teasers as a hack of Monsterhearts to emulate Crazy Rich Asians! (Yes, please!) Kai is encouraging these creators to play test, play test, play test. Which made me think of the Gauntlet. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could help test out some of these games? Anyway, I just wanted to facilitate an introduction between Kai and our community. I know I will be keeping an eye out for more posts and games from Kai! Cheers!
Originally shared by Kai Poh
Malaysian designer OneRudeFlowers made a hack of Honey Heist and it’s about Magic Swords breaking out of prison! Elisha and I did an Actual Play recording of it and you can find out how it plays for a one-on-one session. You can read about our experience and download the playtester packet at my blog: http://roleoverplaydead.com/magicswords/
I just listened to Episode Zero of Asians Represent — a new podcast co-hosted by Agatha Cheng and Daniel Kwan –…
I just listened to Episode Zero of Asians Represent — a new podcast co-hosted by Agatha Cheng and Daniel Kwan — and it sounds great! As the name suggests, the show will highlight the work of Asian creators in analog games — which is a unique and important focus. Also, Agatha and Daniel’s banter is very natural and fun to listen to. I just subscribed and can’t wait for the first regular installment. Here’s the web link for the show:
I am hoping to get feedback on some custom procedures for a session of Final Girl that I am running on Gauntlet…
I am hoping to get feedback on some custom procedures for a session of Final Girl that I am running on Gauntlet Hangouts on September 5th. The session is loosely inspired by the 2004 film, The Descent. The basic setup is this: A group of badass women go into a creepy subterranean environment … horror ensues. The custom procedures are designed to collectively flesh out the nature of the Killer as we play, rather than make a bunch of a priori decisions. In coming up with these procedures, I shamelessly stole from Lovecraftesque ( Becky Annison & Joshua Fox ), Swords Without Masters ( Epidiah Ravachol ), and The Pyramid ( Ray Otus ).
I’d love to get feedback on these procedures. Do they make sense? Do you think they’ll work in play? How can they be improved?
In particular, I’d be interested if people have suggestions for the list of “Killer Questions” — questions that the Killer player tries to answer while narrating Standard Scenes.
Thanks for your support! 🙂
Custom Procedures for Final Girl: Descent into the Unknown
The Set Up
– The Killer: We will be collectively creating the Killer as we play. Right now, though, we should decide on a couple of basic parameters:
Is there one or more Killers? (That is, do you wanna play Alien or Aliens?)
Is the Killer supernatural or mundane?
– The Setting: This must be subterranean, like…
– Casting: A group of kick-ass women. For example:
Old college classmates who urb-ex in their spare time
An elite team of scientists & explorers
– Player responsibilities
Establish relationships, per regular rules.
Foreshadow the Killer: Players should strive to add atmospheric details (motifs) that invoke a sense of dread or foreboding. Motifs may hint at the Killer but should not be irrefutable evidence of the Killer’s presence. For example, a half-eaten deer carcass is a good motif: it is creepy but doesn’t necessarily point to the Killer (a regular bear could be the culprit). We will record these motifs as we play out the scenes. Later, in First Blood and Standard Scenes, the Killer may draw from this pool of motifs for inspiration. To continue the above example: the Killer may later narrate that the Victims stumble into a pile of decaying animal carcasses…except now it includes predators like bears! Note: there is no hard requirement or mechanical benefit to re-incorporating the motifs — it’s just a cool thing to do.
Look at the pool of motifs from the Introductory Scenes. What kind of Killer do you see? If you have a cool idea, then volunteer to be the first Killer!
As the first Killer, you will be making some important choices. At the very least, you will need to answer:
What does the Killer look like? (You don’t have to describe everything. In fact, you may purposefully keep the Killer in the shadows, only describing its outline or its blur as it rushes past.)
How does the Killer kill? Stab / bite / etc.
First Blood & Regular Scenes
– The Killer’s Responsibilities
In addition to regular narration responsibilities, the Killer should answer one or two of the below-listed questions. The questions do not need to be answered in order. However, it is recommended that the Killer attempt to answer some of the questions near the top (dealing with the Killer’s behavior) before tackling the questions near the bottom (dealing with the Killer’s origin and nature). Not all questions may apply to your game depending on your setup. Also feel free to come up with your own questions, as well!
Remember to “show, don’t tell” — that is, don’t directly tell the other players the answer; rather, show them the answer through your narration. For example: The Killer narrates how it plays with the corpse of a victim but does not eat it, indicating that the Killer kills for fun or sport, not for food.
Don’t worry if the answer isn’t obvious. At the end of the scene, any surviving characters will collectively ask, “What if anything did we learn about the Killer?” The answer will become an established part of the fiction. New answers should not contradict pre-established facts but may elaborate or build on them.
– Killer Questions
How does the Killer hunt? Sound / smell / infrared vision
Why does the Killer kill? For food / for fun or sport / out of fear
Where does the Killer sleep, eat, defecate, etc.?
How does the Killer reproduce and raise its young?
What is the Killer’s origin? Created in government lab / humans that mutated over generations living underground
– Killer Tips
Play with your victims: Don’t go directly for the kill. Toy with the victims first.
Use the world around the victims: As the Killer, you set the scene. Use the subterranean environment to separate, slow down, and trap your victims. But save the final blow for the Killer. For example, use a cave-in to trap a victim under rubble, then have the killer step in…
Postmortem of Lovecraftesque: Mr. Giggles Comes To Dinner
Postmortem of Lovecraftesque: Mr. Giggles Comes To Dinner
This game of Lovecraftesque (by Becky Annison and Joshua Fox ) ran on August 7th. We used the pre-made scenario, Mr. Giggles Comes to Dinner, by Misha B . It was the first game that I facilitated on Gauntlet Hangouts. Fortunately, I had the support of a super imaginative and all-around cool group of players: Robbie Boerth , Vincent Eaton , and Keith Stetson . Due technical problems, I was unable to record, which is partly why I wanted to do this write-up. I also wanted to reflect on how the game ran, what worked, and what could have gone better. Hopefully others find this extended meditation useful and/or entertaining!
The basic premise of the game was that Alex, a single parent, must uncover the horrible truth behind their child’s (Sam) imaginary friend, Mr. Giggles. We began by fleshing out the scenario. Misha left some story elements undefined, including the Witness’s social identity. Misha used gender neutral names and pronouns and was silent on race or ethnicity. We consciously designed Alex against our understanding of prevalent cultural expectations. We figured that, if this scenario were a mainstream movie, then Alex would probably be a single mom (see, e.g., The Babadook, 2014), so we made Alex a man. As a chemist, Alex might be expected to be white or Asian, so we made him black.
Part 1, scene 1: Our game opened in a parent-teacher conference. Alex appears harried after a long day at the chemical plant. A teacher (played by the Narrator) and the school principal (played by a Watcher) express concern about Sam’s strange writings. Alex tries to minimize but is stopped short when the teacher holds a mirror next to the papers, revealing that the apparently illegible scrawling is actually backwards writing about “unsealing portals.” Coincidentally, a fluorescent ceiling light begins to flicker and strobe as the teacher flips through the pages of strange writing. Alex attempts to rationalize it away by pointing out that Sam could have learned these terms from him talking about work at the chemical plant. (One of Alex’s pre-determined traits is his penchant for rationalization.)
Part 1, scene 2: Our next scene was set at Alex’s home immediately following the parent-teacher conference. Alex is trying to prepare dinner for Sam (Narrator) while her rambunctious friend Robin (Watcher) jumps on the sofa. As Alex takes some chips from the kitchen cabinet, he discovers that it and other items have been tampered with — a thin incision in the packaging of several items. His discovery is interrupted by Robin, who pulls at the bottom of a stack of old pizza boxes, causing a cascade that sends forth several cockroaches. The cockroaches strangely scurry into the sink and down the drain.
Part 1, scene 3: The next scene occurs in the same evening after Robin’s mother has picked her up. Alex is brewing his own bug spray with household products. He hears voices coming from Sam’s room. At first, Alex assumes Sam is just watching TV, but as he continues to listen, he realizes that Sam is conversing with someone else. Alex rationalizes that Sam must be talking on FaceTime. He swears as Sam ignores his protestations to stop dilly-dallying and finish her homework. Sam suddenly appears in the kitchen and tells Alex that she was talking to Mr. Giggles who is helping her do her homework.
Part 1, scene 4: Later that night, Alex is awakened by a scratching sound coming from the wall separating his and Sam’s bedrooms. Alex finds Sam frantically drawing on the shared wall with crayons, many of which lay broken scattered at her feet. Sam has drawn a perfect circle. Strangely the top of the circle is too high for Sam to reach. When Alex attempts to snap Sam out of her stupor, she convulses and collapses in his arms.
Part 1, scene 5: Alex rushes Sam to the ER. After testing, he learns that Sam has a strange heart condition: her heart is beating double-time, as if there are two heart beats, and yet her blood pressure is fine. As he exists, Alex catches a glimpse of the doctor whispering conspiratorially to a nurse.
Part 2, scene 1: Alex takes Sam to a cardiologist and learns that Sam’s condition appears to be the result of the long-term ingestion of some substance. Alex responds defensively when the doctor inquires whether Sam could have gotten into Alex’s chemicals at home. While conversing, Alex notices a single cockroach scurry across the floor. Other imperfections, like fingerprints on the computer screen, begin to pop into his view. Revolted by the poor hygienic conditions, Alex declines to have Sam submit to further testing at this office and asks for a referral.
Part 2, scene 2: Alex begins to remove the wallpaper from the wall that Sam had drawn on earlier. He discovers that the circle has penetrated past the wallpaper and appears to be burned into the underlying wall itself. He becomes agitated as he struggles to rationalize away his discovery. As his mind reels, the wall within the circle crumbles, revealing a tunnel — despite the fact that his bedroom should lie on the other side!
Journey into darkness: Alex stumbles into the tunnel, following a rhythmic drumming which begins to sync with his own heartbeat. There is a sickly sweet and fetid odor in the air. He runs his hands against the wall of the tunnel and feels strange inscriptions with his fingertips. He eventually trips and passes out after hitting his head against a stone altar.
The Final Horror: When he awakens, Alex finds himself in a massive cavern. Sam is there, too. When Alex tries to carry Sam away, he finds her rooted to the ground by masses of cockroaches swarming over her feet. Sam opens her mouth as if to speak but only a cockroach emerges. A shadow looms up from behind Alex. He turns and is confronted by a massive cockroach-like being. Sam begins to speak in the same voice as Mr. Giggles from her bedroom. (See Part 1, Scene 3.) The last words Alex hears is that “The portal has been opened. He has risen.”
Epilogue: We learn that the small town was destroyed by a massive explosion. The distaster is attributed to the chemical plant, even though the investigation shows that the epicenter of the explosion was Alex’s home. Alex is found alive but unable to speak. The chemical plant scapegoats Alex for the explosion. Corroborating the plant’s narrative, a local news show interviews the cardiologist who recalls that Alex was seeing things (the cockroach in the examination room) and acting irrationally (refused treatment for Sam).
Special cards – No one ended up using their special card. (The general rule of creeping horror prohibits the Narrator from introducing overtly supernatural elements or directly threatening the Witness. Special cards allow the narrator to break this rule under specified conditions.) This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it did feel like a pity not to engage this mechanic. There are two reasons for this lack of use: one, the trigger conditions (e.g., “you may play this card after a scene that includes dreams or visions”) needed to activate the cards were not satisfied; two, some of the cards could only be used in Part 2, which is only 1 to 3 scenes long. These restrictions are essentially a pacing mechanism to keep the “creep” in “creeping horror” — i.e., to prevent the abrupt introduction of supernatural elements too early in the game. However, the trigger and timing conditions may be overly restrictive in practice, making the cards difficult or impossible to enter play at all. I may experiment with loosening or entirely removing these conditions in future games to see what effect this has on the narrative.
The Final Horror — Our Final Horror scene, while very cool and creepy, did not account for all the clues. I suspect this may be true for many Lovecraftesque games. It is a very tall order for the Narrator to weave the clues from the prior six to eight scenes into a single scene. I think some this pressure can be relieved by explicitly making it the job of the Narrators in the two subsequent epilogue scenes to continue incorporating any clues left unaccounted for in the Final Horror scene.
Watchers — Overall I was pleased to see that players were very active in the role of the Watcher. Watchers played a couple of secondary roles: the school principal and Robin (Sam’s best friend). Watchers also took the initiative to offer creepy atmospheric details, some of which reoccurred across scenes (e.g., flickering lights, fetid odors). Indeed, one such atmospheric detail — the cockroach — became a central aspect of the Final Horror. I do feel, however, that as Narrators we could have invited our Watchers to elaborate more on the fiction. I will make an effort to remind myself and others to pose more questions to draw in the Watchers.
Witness Traits — Going into this game, I was skeptical that the procedure of noting new Witness traits after every scene was necessary or useful. I was wrong. This procedure does exactly what it was intended, namely, maintain continuity of the Witness’s personality across scenes despite being played by multiple players. After each scene, we asked, “What if anything did we learn about Alex?” Sometimes the answer was nothing. Sometimes the answer was nothing really new but rather an elaboration of a pre-existing trait, e.g., Alex’s “background as scientist” became “an obsessive need to make sense of things.” In any case, the procedure forced us to think deeply about our characterization of Alex and probably helped prevent wild swings in our individual portrayals of Alex.
In sum, I had a great time playing and hope to have an even more rewarding experience next time. If anyone has thoughts on the game or these reflections, I’d love to hear your feedback! Cheers!
I want to relate a brief story about a racially problematic thing that happened during a game in which I played via…
I want to relate a brief story about a racially problematic thing that happened during a game in which I played via Gauntlet Hangouts and then share my reflections on that event and its wider implications. Before proceeding, I should mention that I am a white man.
Here’s what happened: We were playing a game set in a modern urban fantasy setting. The GM (a white man) created a minor NPC — on the fly, I believe — and described her as a “sassy black woman.” I was stunned in the moment and said nothing, even though I felt this was an offensive racial stereotype. I was not able to address the issue until a roses & thorns debrief at the end of the session. We had a short but fruitful conversation in which one other player also contributed. Fortunately the GM took my point in a relatively non-defensive manner. We eventually came to a consensus that his characterization of the NPC was indeed an offensive stereotype and that reliance on such stereotypes is a lazy way of fleshing out NPCs.
Here are my reflections on what happened:
The X-card isn’t always enough to address problematic content. In my example, the X-card was available, but I choked in the moment. This was a failure on my part, and I am working on getting better at responding to problematic behavior as it occurs. However I don’t think this problem is unique to me. Also a player from a marginalized group may hesitate during game play for legitimate reasons (e.g., fear of being dismissed) and miss the window of opportunity to invoke the X-card. For this reason, I think it would be a good idea to encourage GMs to conduct roses and thorns debriefs at the end of sessions and explicitly encourage players to reflect any content that they feel was problematic in regards to race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability.
Also, I was fortunate in having a GM who did not respond defensively to my feedback. From my past experience calling out white people about racially problematic behavior, I know this is not always the case. As such, I think it would be good to have some basic written advice on how to raise and respond to such issues — for example, the distinction between intent and effect: just because I expressed my discomfort with the GM’s characterization of that NPC doesn’t mean I’m accusing him of being a bad person or having bad motives. Hopefully, this advice will help guide conversations in a productive direction so that the person receiving the feedback will actually understand the problem and can avoid similar problematic content in the future.
Finally, I think what happened in my example is relatively common — that is, it is probably easy for a GM to fall back on stereotypes when they are creating NPCs on the fly. I think it would be useful to compile a list of such pitfalls and ways to avoid them. In the example at hand, just being aware of this tendency and consciously checking yourself: Am I inadvertently reproducing a stereotype? If yes, then switch it up: Instead of another nerdy Asian character, make them debonair and suave!
I’d be very interested in hearing what people think about my reflections on this example. What do you think about these proposals: 1. encouraging debriefs to address problematic racial & other content, 2. creating written advice on how to give and receive such feedback, and 3. compiling a list of common pitfalls & ways to avoid them?
In case it’s not clear, I really loving gaming at Gauntlet and want to see it become even more awesome. I know that Jason and Kate are working hard at increasing diversity. I’d like to see the wider Gauntlet community pool ideas and energy to support this effort so that our community is as safe as possible for old & new members from marginalized communities. Thanks for reading!