Thursday, December 7, 2017

Collaborative world building, it’s a thing

I was listening to Matt Colville, who I listen to very erratically, and he commented on how world building is a DM’s thing and how the players investment in how they have drama in that world.

However, I have been in campaigns where the DM assigned world building to the players. You, you’re playing an elf? Okay, you get decide what elves are like in our world. It shares the work and lets players get more invested in the world.

Oh, in the game did end up having an over arcing story. The DM just tailored it to the players’ interests after he learned what they were.

However, what really came to my mind was the games where the whole point is for everyone to work together to create the world. Games are where everyone gets to take part in the world building.

My first experience doing that was... man, 1997. If there were any world building games out at the time, we didn’t know it. We just each took a piece and developed it. We ended up with a world of islands floating in the volcano with renaissance duelers and steampunk monks who didn’t wear goggles. We never ended until doing anything with it but it was pretty.

However, there are now a number of options for collaborative world building. The first one I heard of was Universalis, which I still haven’t really looked at. Downfall is another one I want to look into. I have actually played the Quiet Year, which explores building a community but also has a definitely helping of collaborative world building.

The world building game that I have, by far, had the most experience with is Microscope. If someone asked me to recommend a world building game, which has never happened and probably never will, I’d recommend Microscope. In fact, that the first Microscope game I was ever in had the goal of creating a campaign world for D&D and the player who was the DM used it for more than one campaign.

World building hasn’t been on my mind lately. However, after my mind was poked, I not only remembered that I enjoy it, there are systems that really explore it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Thanks, Secret Santa!

Holy cow! I already got my Mini-PnP Secret Santa package and it exceeded my wildest expectations.

Inside the mysterious box, I found full color copies of Strawberry Ninja and Pleasant Prospect Farm. They are in boxes, the cards look like they have linen finish and there’s a nice cat figure for Strawberry Ninja.

Man, I thought I was doing well with B&W laser printer, a laminator and a good paper cutter. But, to quote Prince of Tennis, I still have lots to work on :D

(Haven’t read it in years but I had fun reading Prince of Tennis. I liked how Ryoma isn’t some mysteriously gifted novice but rigorously trained the start. And how middle school tennis matches were  treated like Dragon Ball Z fights on steroids.)

This definitely exceeding my expectations and I know I won’t be sending such a spiffy gift. Still, I will do my best!

Friday, December 1, 2017

octaNe: the FUN apocalypse

octaNe is an RPG about the fun side of the apocalypse. Don’t worry about starvation, radiation poisoning and the collapse of civilization. Just crank up the eight track and get ready to party with mutant truckers, Elvis impersonators and masked luchadores. 

One of the ways I personally measure RPGs is how much fun they are to read and octaNe score high on that category. It is a total hoot to read. 

The game is a campy love letter to wacky science fiction movies of the 70s and 80s. In a world where anything east of the Mississippi doesn’t exist, where road warriors cruise the desert, masked Mexican wrestlers fight for justice and dinosaurs are back in South America, you know it’s going to be crazy. This is a rules-light system where the rule of cool trumps any worries about physics and realism. 

Okay, I’m going to write one paragraph about the play mode section, one paragraph on mechanics and maybe one or two  paragraphs about settings. Then I’m going to say what I like and dislike about the game.

The game has five suggested plays modes. From out-and-out wacky to serious they are: psychotronic, grindhouse, arthouse, and Cinema Verite. Honestly, I don’t see any reason to play anything but psychotronic. But having the modes laid out helps everyone understand what kind of story you are telling.

The game uses a simple dice pool mechanic to resolve conflict. You roll three dice and use the highest die to determine who controls the resolution. You can spend plot points to add more dice and the GM can use hazards to reduce die rolls. Your styles, the equivalent of stats, don’t add dice. They help you earn plot points. It’s a little more complicated than that but that’s the thumbnail.

Okay, let’s do another paragraph. High rolls and low rolls don’t determine success or failure. They determine who narrates the rest of the scene. Which does help break up the role of GM and player but there are other games that do that better.

The setting. Oh man, the setting. Take everything silly and cool and wacky from the cheap science fiction movies from the 70s, jam them into a cocktail shaker, shake them up and pour out a tall drink of crazy. This is the real selling point of octaNe. If you don’t want to embrace free-wheeling honky tonk kitsch and coolness, you don’t want to play this game.

I have heard it said that the setting is what you fall in love with in RPGs. And octaNe is a love letter to this setting. You’re not going to play octaNe to explore narrative dynamics. You play it to get funky.

However, I do have some concerns about the system. As simple as it is, there seem to be some potential issues. One roll can potentially resolve a scene, which is fine if there’s just one player is making the call. But if several players are vying for control, things could get awkward. There’s a hierarchy of styles (Indiana Jones gets preference over Doctor Strange :P) but it could still be an real issue.

I also have specific concerns for the two special styles players can take, Might (basically super powers) and Magic. They have a bonus effect to reduce hazards and let players do the impossible. But they are fueled by plot points, making them expensive, less mathematically effective and able to be burned out. Which wouldn’t be so unreasonable, given the whole do the impossible bit. Except that, given the flexibility of the system and the rule of cool, any of the styles can kind of do that.

I also think there are systems that do some of what octaNe does better. As far as sharing the GM’s narrative role with the players, I think games like Trollbabe and InSpectres do it much better. And if I want an apocalypse game that is anything other than whole hog honky tonk, I’d reach for Apocalypse World.

All that said, I wouldn’t pass up a chance to try octaNe. Because, mechanical quibbles to one side, playing in this setting sounds like it would be a total blast.

Abstracts for a teenager

I was included in a request to suggest games for a smart teenager who likes chess and strategy games. While other folks handled the strategy end, I decided to focus on the abstract end for my suggestions. 

I had fun making the list and I thought it would be fun to share what I wrote:


I’m going to tackle the abstract side of the question, since I like abstracts. Most modern abstracts tend to play faster than Chess or Go, by the way.

Hive - This is a chess-like game of insects trying to surround the enemy Queen. The pieces are thick, chunky tiles and they create the board as you add them. It’s been around for years and still have a strong following.

The GIPF Project - A collection of pure abstracts by Kris Burm. I’ve played all but LYNGK (which came out this year) and I enjoyed all of them (although I didn’t care for the first one GIPF, as much) I’d recommend YINSH and ZERTZ in particular. And, to the best of my knowledge, the names don’t mean anything.

Pyramid Arcade - This is a tool kit of games from Looney Labs, the folks who made Fluxx. They all use nifty plastic, space-age looking pyramids. I’ve been having fun with the pyramids since 2004.

Ingenious- A domino game that uses hexagonal dominoes and the same scoring system as Tigris and Euphrates. It does have a random luck of the draw but it was my favorite game for a while.

Qwirkle - Scrabble without a board and using colors and symbols instead of letters. This is Carrie and my favorite game to play together and we have played it a lot over the years.

I’ve also heard very good things about Santorini, which involves building towers with special powers but I haven’t played it yet. I also have to give a nod to Puerto Rico for family gaming.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Jumping into Lemminge

Lemminge is a game that I never would have heard of, let alone played, if it wasn’t for Yucata.

It’s a race game based on the disproven myth that lemmings are a bunch of suicidal rodents who have an urge to throw themselves off cliffs. You are trying to be the first person to get both your lemmings over the cliff.

The board is a wide, u-shaped track of hexes that are either blank or a terrain type, which are grouped together. 

On your turn, you can either draw cards or play cards. Playing cards is the interesting bit. The cards show the different terrain types and a number. Over the course the game, you make rows of each terrain type, counting down. If you play a higher card, you clear the row and start over with your card.

So here’s how movement works: you move one of your lemmings the sum Of the room that you just put a card in. They can move on blank spaces or the matching terrain. You can also push other lemmings but that takes movement points.

One of my favorite touches is that if you clear a card row and start a new one (which usually means less movement), you get the consolation of a tile that matches that terrain that you can use to fill an empty space on the board. Definitely gives options for nasty plays.

And, the game ends when someone flings their two lemmings over the cliff and wins.

On a whole, I’m pretty meh to the game. While you sometimes get to make some really cool moves, luck of the draw seems really powerful. And if you get blocked in or have bad card draws, even a move that gives you a lot of moves doesn’t seem like it would save you. Particularly because you only get one terrain type per move.

In the case of Lemminge, that fact that it is a very light game is kind of its saving grace. Because it is easy to understand and quick to play, I’m willing to keep on trying it. It could be that practicing hand management might mitigate the luck. Or it could be that each turn really only does have one good move.

It reminds me a lot of Odin’s Ravens, the whole playing cards to matching terrain for movement. However, Odin’s Ravens is a much tighter, more interactive game. Lemminge just doesn’t have the tension.

I won’t deny the fact that getting to learn a new game is  fun. So I am glad that I have gotten to experience Lemminge. However, I can’t say that it’s a game that I would actually think about getting a hardcopy or even try and get a play face-to-face.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A bumbling side trek

Session 12 of the Late Lurkers

It had been close to two months since the last time we had played. Of course, part of the whole deal of this campaign was that adult responsibilities had to come first so that wasn’t a big deal.

Thanks to Thanksgiving, half the folks who planned on making it weren’t able to play. Playing via Roll20 and the power of the internet makes things very flexible but you can only bend so much.

So we ended up with only three players. The GM toned things down so he didn’t wipe us out and he made it a short session.

The three party members who were there split off from the rest as we followed two different trails of the cult members we were dealing with. We ended up finding a tiny hamlet where one of the residents was a secret cult member, complete with zombies and a living rug. The GM has a real tendency to use living furniture.

I’ll be honest. It was tough to get into character this time. Between the gap between plays and being down so many players, I think it was tough to find our footing and I think we let the NPCs bamboozle us more than we should have. I just became a spell caster and I didn’t use any of my new spells.

That said, our biggest goal, hanging out with long distance friends, went off without a hitch. We had fun and, once we realized that there were a smokehouse full of zombies, it all fell into place. And setting the place on fire and maybe starting a forest fire, that felt good.

I try to think about how Roll20 affect our experiences. At its best, we forget about it and just play. Even though this was a relatively weak session (and, honestly, this campaign is strong enough that a ‘weak’ session is still a pleasure), it still was fluid and moved well.

And I have a feeling we will be a lot quicker to judge potential cultists.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A game combining tattoos and bad choices

There are time when I read and study role playing game systems borderline manically. And then there are times when I might go for weeks or months without picking one up. I’ve been going through a dry spell lately so I’m trying to jumpstart myself a bit.

So I reread a tiny little RPG called Tramp Stamp. It was from a 24-Hour design contest from 2009. I had honestly don’t remember where I originally downloaded it and googling Tramp Stamp RPG gets a lot of weird results.

It’s a one-session, GM-free game built around under the idea that everyone is a tattoo artist at a shop that is gong to close down. You are all trying to make that one great tattoo that will help you stay in the business. Otherwise, you might have to get a haircut and a real job or completely self-destruct. You run through three rounds of personal scenes and tattoo scenes to determine how everyone turns out.

Characters have three stats: Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. You use these traits to be able to create awesome tattoos but they also fuel your self-destruction. 

While the ostensible goal of the game is to be the one who makes the most awesome tattoo, it is really about exploring self-destructive behaviors and habits. That’s the real point of the game.

I have read a lot of micro RPGs over the last few years. And, there’s only a couple I really see myself having much chance of playing. Tramp Stamp isn’t one of them. But it is one that has stayed in my head. The theme is unusual and it has sex, drugs and rock and roll for stats. Still, if I want a one-shot about self destruction, I’d go with Fiasco.