Last week, James Mullen ran his game, Blood & Water, for Story Game Sunday and it was a lot of fun.

Last week, James Mullen ran his game, Blood & Water, for Story Game Sunday and it was a lot of fun.

Last week, James Mullen ran his game, Blood & Water, for Story Game Sunday and it was a lot of fun. I gather that it’s somewhat similar thematically to the TV show Being Human in that it’s about a group of monsters who used to be human sharing an apartment and trying to function as best as they can in the world. I’m not familiar with the show, but I didn’t have any issue grokking the story we were going for.

Character creation is quick and does a good job of generating characters who straddle the line between monsterous and human. One part of the character creation process that I really dug was answering the questions “What do I want that I don’t have?” and “What do I have that I don’t want?” You are encouraged to use one of the questions to explore your human side and the other to explore your monster side, so in our game we wound up with:

– the incarnation of an Egyptian god who wanted to appear on stage alongside Kristin Chenoweth, and was responsible for making sure the sun rose on time every day.

– a ghoul who wanted to get tenure at his university, and carried around the talking skull of the first man he ate.

– a swamp-monster who wanted to get his stick-and-mud-based art featured in an upscale gallery, and was compelled to look out for the well-being of a large family of rats.

Mechanics-wise, when a character wants to do something that requires a roll, they can ask someone else to roll for them, and any complications that arise from the roll will happen to the helper rather than the active character. If a helper fails, the active character can continue to ask for help from other characters before finally attempting to roll himself. Any complications that have already been rolled stick around, so there is the potential for a really satisfying snowball of failure or even situations where all of the helpers get screwed, but the active player manages to get everything they want in the end. It’s mechanically simple, but really satisfying in play.

Our story ramped up to a grand finale in front of a giant burning art installation complete with celebrity snogging, celebrity decapitation, assassination by alligator, the ascension of a child god, and a swamp monster drunkenly hiding in a champagne fountain. You know, the usual.

James mentioned that he might try to run a multi-session game in the future, and I’d definitely recommend keeping an eye out for it. We played our game at full tilt, but I think it might work even better with a little more room to breathe, since we wound up having to leave some aspects of our characters mostly unexplored.

Thanks a bunch to James for running it and to Horst Wurst and Declan (who I don’t see on g+) for joining in!

Last night, I played Dungeons & Dragons in virtual reality.

Last night, I played Dungeons & Dragons in virtual reality.

Last night, I played Dungeons & Dragons in virtual reality.  It was a glorious collision of old fashioned geek culture, unpredictable technology, and internet jackassery.  It was fantastic.

I played in AltspaceVR, which is essentially a large VR chatroom.  Users with and without virtual reality headsets can connect to a virtual world, select a robot avatar, wander around, and talk to each other.  It’s one of the most compelling experiences that you can currently have in VR.  In addition to having generic lobbies to hang out in, there are a small selection of themed worlds, like a holographic disc golf course, a jungle maze leading to a towering pyramid, and a medieval tavern designed to facilitate games of D&D.  I’ll be told later that you can enter a private instance of this room, but my experience is to be in a public room where anyone can enter at any time and start interacting with things.

The D&D tavern is cool.  There is a main room with a flickering fireplace, a long bar, and a floating selection of weapons that you can select to stick on your robot avatar’s back.  Since bards are the best class, I try to take the lute.  As soon as I touch it, the room explodes in ear shattering static.  Sound is localized, so I zigzag around the room like a frightened animal in a desperate attempt to escape the noise, but it follows me – the sound is coming from the bugged out lute on my back.  I rip the Rift off my face and log out.  Lesson learned, don’t touch the lutes.

After logging back in, I resist the urge to make another attempt at the lute and instead go to the alcove on the side of the bar where the gaming table is.  The table itself is about ten feet long and covered in a grid.  As I approach, a pair of screens pop up beside me, presenting basic D&D character sheets and reference documents.  It’s really cool.  I tell the GM that I’d like to play and start perusing the available characters.  

Suddenly, a white and green robot is all up in my way.  It’s apparently decided that it wants to check out the table too and is just hanging out in the same spot as me.  I try to politely ask it to move.  There’s no response.  I shrug and move to another spot at the table.  Satisfied with my choice of a human fighter, I look up from my reference sheets to pick a miniature.  The white and green robot is there again, but now it’s moved to the center of the room and its torso and head are springing up from the map.  This will be a common occurrence.  

“Get out of the table, please,” a handful of annoyed people say in unison.  The white and green robot mumbles an apology and disappears.

After roughly half an hour, we’ve got five players and a GM.  There are about 10 to 20 other people just milling around and logging in and out at random.  A large number of the observers have live mics in crowded rooms so they roll around letting you listen to everything that’s happening in whatever room they are sitting in.  Most of them will at some point loudly yell, “Come check out these guys playing D&D!”

The GM’s mic is very quiet.  The player beside me has a very hot mic and is alternating between talking to us and talking to someone else who’s in the room with him.  I smash the left headphone to my ear and take off the right.  We go around the table to introduce ourselves.  One of the players disappears in the middle of his introduction.  He doesn’t come back.  The remaining four of us get the lowdown on the situation.  

Pirates attacked a town and stole a crate that the townspeople want back.  What would it take for us to help?, they ask.

“You can keep your money,” I say, in the only line of in-character dialogue I would speak during the entire 3 hours, “Pirates killed my pa.”

This instantly gives my character, Dan the Fighter, a richer backstory and more complex motivations than any of the other characters at the table, so I am able to feel a bit smug about my high level roleplaying abilities.

The townspeople give us a boat and the GM presses a button on the table and a bunch of terrain tiles appear on the map in the rough shape of a pirate ship.  These are the pirates that we will be assaulting.  The GM turns to us.  

“What’s the plan of attack?”

I don’t offer a plan, because there’s another random robot standing in the table, looking me right in the face.  I turn away to look at my reference sheets and he follows, standing between me and the screen.  This continues for several minutes as he makes it his mission to stand wherever I’m looking.  At some point I realize that this is a coordinated effort.  There are a half dozen of these guys wandering around and purposefully getting in the way.  Hot mic guy beside me yells at one of them to get out of his face.  The robot says nothing, but inches closer and shakes its head.  No.

Eventually, they get bored, wander off, and we get back down to business.  

“So, what was that plan going to be?” the GM prompts again.

“Oh, come on!” hot mic guy shouts.  

There is a web browser on a giant screen behind the GM.  It’s playing a looping gif of a man pleasuring himself.  The scale of the room makes his penis roughly twelve feet tall.  

“Seriously, guys,” the GM mutters as he shuts off the screen.

“I’ve got to go,” hot mic guys says.

We take stock of the remaining players.  Apparently we lost another one at some point but none of us had noticed.  There are only two of us left to fight a battle that was clearly intended for an entire party.  The GM starts placing minis on the map.  We are outnumbered about six to one.  Seeing minis go out on the table causes the spectators in the room to try to see if they can move them.  They can.  They can also place new minis on the map.  Soon, the pirate ship contains skeletons, gelatinous cubes, necromancers, and a wide array of hero figures which are continuously moving around the map at random.  

We spend time cleaning up and making the map functional again.  Finally, it’s time to roll the dice.  There is a chandelier made of dice.  You click them and they fall onto the table and roll.  Anyone in the room can do this.  It is bedlam again as all manner of dice are rolled and destroyed and rolled again.

Finally, we manage to sneak enough of our actual rolls in to more or less carry out the combat.  We kill a few of the things around us and the GM suggests we call it a night.  He had another 3 combats queued up, but at the rate we were going it would have taken us an additional 6 hours to get through them.

After the game, the GM tells me that he normally plays in private rooms. 

“It’s a lot better,” he says.

I’m not sure though.  With the tools available, you could definitely recreate the experience of sitting around a real table and playing D&D, but as a person who doesn’t really want to play D&D, I think the experience I got was exactly what I wanted.  If nothing else, at least trying to figure out who to mute, fixing the minis, and ducking around random robots to try to get a peek at my character sheet gave me something to do while I waited for my turn to come back up in the initiative order.

Here’s a game with one of the coolest settings I’ve seen in a while, but then I’m a huge sucker for cyberpunk.

Here’s a game with one of the coolest settings I’ve seen in a while, but then I’m a huge sucker for cyberpunk.

Here’s a game with one of the coolest settings I’ve seen in a while, but then I’m a huge sucker for cyberpunk.  Add AW to the mix and it’s an instant back for me.  Comes with beta rules too, so expect this one to hit the calendar soon.

Last night, we ran two tables of #threeforged  playtests.

Last night, we ran two tables of #threeforged  playtests.

Last night, we ran two tables of #threeforged  playtests.  My table played Children’s Radio Hour and Fear of the Dark.

Children’s Radio Hour

Wow, this game.  This is another one that I love, in theory, just because it’s such a unique idea.  All of the players are actors on a children’s radio show.  Each player has a different agenda that they are trying to subtly push through the story while still keeping it, on its face, nothing more than a light children’s tale.  The game has a strict one hour time limit and you aren’t allowed to break character, except for during a handful of commercial breaks.  In general, when it’s working, it works well.  Our radio play was fun.  I’m led to believe that it’s got a similar vibe to Puppetland, in that you can’t just narrate what your character is doing in third person, it’s all kid-friendly first person narration, e.g. “Now, I’m casting a magic spell on you.  Abracadabra!”

To help out with your improvising, you’ve got a stack of index cards with prompts for “characters”, “locations”, and “things” in the middle of the table that you can pull from when you want to incorporate something new into the play.  In the beginning of the game, before you start the timer, every person creates one of each, but you should be writing more constantly since writing leading prompts is the best way to get your agenda into the play. 

Here’s the problem though: there are so many things going on in real-time that it’s almost impossible to do them all and bring your A-game to the roleplaying.  Here’s a short list of what you should be doing / holding in your head at all times:

* Roleplaying your character (or, more likely, multiple characters)

* Keeping track of who the other players are roleplaying (multiple characters each)

* Writing prompt cards (don’t forget to incorporate your agenda when writing them).  This is super important; we kept running out.

* Pushing your agenda in the roleplay

* Listening for other actors to say things that help with your agenda and giving them a token when they do

* Every time a new character is introduced, note it on the master name list so you don’t reuse the name

* As the Station Manager, watch the clock so you can let everyone know when commercial breaks begin and end

* As the Station Manager, listen for people breaking character or causing lulls and throw dead air tokens

Holy Cognitive Load, Batman!  That is just too much.  It would probably get a little better on successive playthroughs, but it’s still going to be too much to keep track of to really be engaged in the roleplaying to the extent that you should be.  The really onerous requirement is writing the prompt cards during play (each card has multiple parts, also, like 3 details for a character or a location name and two details about it).  We decided that either writing a ton of prompts in the beginning or dividing the players into actors and writers (who had their own agendas and just wrote prompts the whole time) would probably go a long way to making this game more approachable.  As it is, we threw in the towel at the halfway mark.  It was fun, but everyone was just mentally exhausted, we’d already burned through all of the index cards that we had at the table, and we had sort of lost the thread of our play.  

This one joins Timelines in the pile of games that are great ideas but really ask a lot of the players.  After the singularity, once our brains are all uploaded to computers, I’ll play this one again and it will be great.

Fear of the Dark

I really like this one.  It’s about kids, who are supposed to be in bed while the grown-ups do mysterious grown-up things in another part of the house, sneaking out of their beds to try to accomplish little mundane tasks that are preventing them from sleeping.

Accomplishing these tasks, though, will force the kids to creep through the dark house, where they imagine all sorts of things that are out to get them.  It’s delightful.  There’s a definite joy in describing mundane things as if they are horrible monsters.  The tree-branch shaped shadows outside the window?  That’s clearly a monstrous octopus.  Creepy doll in the attic? OHMYGODRUN!

One really smart design choice in this game is that it’s on the kids to scare themselves.  For example, the GM might describe a generic, easily-explained noise, then ask the players what they think it was.  When the players describe whatever horrible thing they imagine made the noise, the GM agrees and goes from there.  It creates a really fun dynamic where as players, we pretty much all know the actual, mundane explanation as to what’s going on, but simultaneously, we are holding onto the kids’ fantastic, scary interpretation of it and acting on that.

Any time the kids push themselves to confront their fears, there is a nice, simple card-based resolution mechanic to determine if they succeed or not.  If they fail, they have two options.  First, they can choose to react in a kid-like manner, e.g., running to the adults, screaming for help, running back to their beds.  Alternatively, they can choose to be “touched by the darkness”.  When kids are touched by the darkness, they actually see through their fear and realize that the thing they were so afraid of wasn’t anything scary after all, e.g. “Oh, it was just a tree branch after all.”  If a kid gets touched by the darkness too many times, they outgrow their fears but in the process they lose the ability to see the world with as much wonder as they once did.

Once this happens to a player, they start working with the darkness to help scare the remaining children.

So yeah, I really like this one.  There are a couple small things that seem a little unnecessary.  For some reason, the game runs for exactly one hour.  I’m not sure that adds anything.  We ignored the timer when it ran out and finished out our story.  Also, there’s a notion of a winning player, but it has literally no function other than saying “Great, you win!” at the end.  We forgot to even check who won at the end of our game and no one missed it.

I think for me, this falls right below Field Work on my list, but it’s solidly in second place.  I’d happily play it again.

I’m trying to decide if this is a real game or a joke about indie games.  What do you think?

I’m trying to decide if this is a real game or a joke about indie games.  What do you think?

I’m trying to decide if this is a real game or a joke about indie games.  What do you think?

Just finished playing Jackson Tegu ‘s How We Are Like The Storm.

Just finished playing Jackson Tegu ‘s How We Are Like The Storm.

Just finished playing Jackson Tegu ‘s How We Are Like The Storm.  I imagine I’ll talk about it at length on an upcoming podcast, but in the meantime, look how cool the final result is!

A FATE conversion for Part-Time Gods is coming.

A FATE conversion for Part-Time Gods is coming.

A FATE conversion for Part-Time Gods is coming.  It’s giving me hope that it might someday become a game that I’ll actually play, rather than just occasionally thinking about how cool the setting is.