Thursday, 24 October 2013

An ST did it and ran away

Prompted by a recent IC discussion on choices, in which it appeared that the other person had a vastly different conception of what actual choices another person's character had had available to them, I was forced to consider something.

I was told that character x (played by player X) had been tricked into joining a Legacy. This is in Mage: The Awakening, in which joining a Legacy involves reshaping your very soul to enable you to perform certain magical feats as though they were mundane voluntary or even autonomic functions of your own mind and body. Thus, the idea of being flat out tricked into doing it boggles the mind rather.

But I now have a quandary. Is the issue here that a) x is lying, b) X is lying, c) X is misinformed, or d) an ST did it and ran away?

Now, x might be lying; so might X. Or, X might have believed that he had no choice while the ST thought he was choosing. Alternatively, and I have seen this before, the ST may have presented it as a matter of no choice. Sometimes, in larger LARP games, the ST will present a player with the do or die shitty choice of becoming a villain or, well, dying a horrible pointless death, perform a loaded bait and switch, or simply present membership in the antagonistic group as a fait accompli.

The problem is that this always sucks, moreso if the ST bends the rules to do it, and if I, as player Y, start pushing that there had to have been a choice, it's just going to make it more miserable for them.

I understand why this gets done, and it's never from malice. It adds drama to the game for certain; it just tends to do it at the extreme expense of a particular player or group of players.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

31 Short Stories - A post in which I try to briefly describe my current projects, largely to see if they make sense

31 Short Stories is my NaNo project from last year and for this year, its goal to produce a body of short fiction that I can try to polish, compile and sell as a Kindle or other ebook format. Currently, I am considering the possibility of running out a couple of stories as a free preview, and if that goes well pitching the full collection at the 70% price threshold, but honestly the tiny amount of money I'm likely to make is a secondary consideration to putting myself out there.

Of last year's 27 stories (I ran short), I have nine that I think are strong enough and five that are maybes, as well as two that I am going to rewrite completely this year. I have the stories out with three friends for reviewing, so we'll see if their expectations match up with mine.

For this year, I have 43 concepts to work on, although in all honesty I know already that some of them won't work out; that's why I've gone for 43 concepts for 31 stories. They range from fairytale retellings to time travel comedy, and a couple of shots at satire within the SF, fantasy and horror genres.

As ever, with NaNo, the initial target is 50,000 words in the month of November. After that, we shall see if I have something I can run with.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Poetry Please - The Mathematics of Maturity

A > B
Where A is the ability to
     provide food
And B
     is job satisfaction.

X < Y
Where X is all the things I used to do
     for fun
And Y
      is the things that need to be done.

Where M is getting everything finished
And N is getting lucky
And M + N > T
     which is how much time there is in the day.

But L > Σ w
Where w
     is my trouble and my woe
And L
     is the love in my life.

Poetry Please - Nevermore

There were no cats on Noah's Ark,
When other beasts took flight,
The cats just purred and washed their fur,
And said: "We'll be alright."

Noah went to the oldest cat,
And said: "You'll all be killed!"
"Fear not for us," the cat replied,
"On the quantum wave function we shall ride,
"Out of sight, we're uncannily skilled."

"When floods are done and the water gone,
"And your Ark seeks a foreign shore,
"You may believe we all are dead,
"But you'll never be quite sure."

"Uncertainty's a powerful friend,
"If ever there's a doubt;
"The teeniest, tiniest, slightest hope,
"The cats will find it out."

Noah wept for what would be lost,
As he went back to his boat,
For though the waters would bear the Ark,
Cats, alas, do not float.

For forty days and forty nights,
All land was out of reach,
But when the world began to dry,
The eldest cat, with head held high,
Sat waiting on the beach.

So when this watery tale is told,
And they curse a blackbird craven,
Think to yourself, with all those cats,
What fate befell the raven?

Friday, 20 September 2013

Poetry Please - Impulse Shopping Blues

I couldn't, I shouldn't,
I wouldn't, I can't,
I won't and I shan't, but I might.
I'll do it, I've done it,
I did it I did,
Though it doesn't look right in this light.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Poetry Please - Rhapsody in Black

As my current webserver is closing down, I'm going to migrate some of my older writing and poetry to here, beginning with this piece, as it is apt to the date.

Rhapsody in Black

Two figures standing silent on the corner,
Sentinels of glass and steel,
Watching over their noirish dreamland,
Their home of the brave, land where nothing is free.
Lonely, mist-bound romantics,
Ghosts of the coffee-house and the opera house,
Burning a thousand warm candles in the night,
Echoes of Gershwin at the day's dawning.
Dark shapes at dusk,
Guardians of these mean streets,
Patron saints of cruelty and greed,
Paladins of cold, hard honour.
Twin pinnacles reaching for eternity,
The new mansions of millions of years,
Rooted in blood they rise in crescendo,
To dreams of highest art.
The silhouettes of an ideal,
Spectral custodians of a bygone age,
A fantasy of indomitable will,
Fallen into flame and dust.
Ivy-strewn skeletons, side-by-side,
All that remains of a once-great world,
In the cold shadow of the bomb,
Yet now they stand no more.
An empire of the mind,
Past, present,
And never was.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Tomb Raider

I was never a huge fan of the original Tomb Raider games; I don't know why. Maybe I just missed the moment and by the time I had access to them, there were better games that did the same thing, but without the problems. I've contemplated picking up the various new versions as they've come out, but in later years I think the movies put me off. The first Tomb Raider was just dull, and so was Lara Croft. In attempting to make a tough female character, without having a clue how, they made her emotionless and unengaging. The sequel fixed a few of the problems, with Lara showing vulnerability and pain, and thereby being able to convey strength, but ultimately she remained a bit bland.

And then came the reboot, and I heard good things. I also heard bad things, but those turned out to be somewhat overblown. In the end, I was decided by a good bargain in the Steam Summer Sale and an interview with the writer (and not because Rhianna Pratchett is Terry's daughter, but because she made the story sound interesting).

And you know what? It is interesting. Moreover, while Lara is still shown to be strongly motivated by a broken relationship with her father, and a powerful bond with her father-figure, Roth, as the game progresses it is ultimately driven by the relationships between Lara and the other women in the game: Reyes, whose skepticism and distrust of Lara provides a much-needed counterpoint to the faith shown in her by others, and forces her to shape up; Himiko, the fabled Sun Queen whose power casts a shadow over the whole game, despite hardly every appearing; and Sam, Lara's close friend, whose peril is her strongest motivator.

I think this may, in fact, be one of the few computer games that passes the Bechdel Test.

It also appeals to the obsessive-compulsive nerd in me, by including scads of optional objectives and collectibles (including diary entries and other documents which flesh out the backstory, which is something that seldom fails to send me to Nerdvana).

Designwise, it is beautiful, and the new Lara is an amazing achievement, visually connected to her predecessors, but steadfastly human both in proportions and in character. Yes, the shocking violence when she is first forced to take a human life is undercut somewhat by the sheer number of people she kills almost immediately afterwards, but some above-average voice acting and the use of a number of levels where your mobility is limited by a wince-inducing limp until you can find medical supplies ground the character and, as noted above, allow her to demonstrate true strength, not by effortlessly overcoming adversity, but by struggling through it.

As a side note, it is also a game which shows a substantial awareness of its own iconography, from the climbing axe (a combination tool and weapon which is both its own thing and at the same time a nod to Gordon Freeman's crowbar) to the gradual evolution of Lara's pistol towards her own iconic dual-wield.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Another 31 Short Stories

For this year's NaNoWriMo, I've decided to revisit last year's 31 short stories idea. I will aim to write (on average) 1 short story a day, +1 for luck, totaling over 50,000 words.

I am then going to ask some people to look over what I've written - this year and last - and give me constructive feedback, and aim to whittle my various outputs down to somewhere between a dozen and twenty prime picks, polish them up, and publish the results in some kind of ebook format in the first half of 2014.

So, obviously I am posting this partly because naming a goal makes it harder to wimp out and partly because I am asking my friends to help me by:

1) Suggesting titles or themes for this year's 31 short stories. I have a few ideas, some part of larger pieces I'm trying to get my head around, but I am aiming for range, in part to get to grips with what I'm good at and what turns out as self-indulgent waffle.

2) Reading what I've written and providing me with honest, constructive feedback. I'm not fishing for compliments, but I'm not looking to get kicked to the curb either. Suggestions on how to improve are more useful than just noting flaws, but more than that, I'm very aware that I lack emotional resilience, so I'm looking for people who are confident in their ability to constructively criticise.

3) Offering sound advice on e-publishing and promotion of e-publishing, based on experience, or introductions to people or web sources who can provide the same either on an informal basis or for a modest sum, since I can't afford more than modest.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Out of Our Minds: The Importance of Madness in Gaming

So, following on from my last post, why is it important to have a madness mechanic at all? Well, largely because it reinforces a horror mechanic like nothing else. Monsters that far outstrip you in power? That's doable if you're careful. Sorcerers impervious to mortal weapons? You can outsmart that. The crippling of your own mental equilibrium as a consequence of your own actions... Well, shit.

To use a media shorthand, games without morality and sanity mechanics are like an eighties TV series. Short of flat-out character death, consequences are limited to the current episode and winning tends to obviate any kind of come back. Failure is penalised, success is rewarded and your methods are only in question if they don't work. Such games can be a lot of fun; they can be exciting, and they can even be tense and a little scary. They are not, however, horrific, any more than - for example - the A-Team is horrific.

Games with these systems are more like more recent TV, where arc plots and character continuity mean that everything that has a consequence has a lasting consequence. Character growth - or degeneration - is ongoing, and watching your beloved character go slowly insane despite - even because of - their success, is part of the fun and about 90% of the actual horror. The erosion of character autonomy and agency allows the players to integrate better with the scene, such that the eerie description of the approach of the Great Old One is not just a cool description and an indicator that a shift of tactics might be in order, but something genuinely scary. Likewise, if filling the cultist leader full of lead is only an expeditious means of ending the threat, rather than an arguably necessary, but heinously immoral action which will have a lasting impact on your worldview, then harming others becomes a serious and daunting prospect.

With mechanics such as these, choices become more difficult, shadows become more scary; the world becomes more realised and alive. It's not something you always want (no WH40K-based RPG should really be concerning itself with morality outside of player-driven contemplation, and there is a strong case to be made for a mechanic which limits the opportunities for a fantasy hero to brood), but for horror games there's nothing like it.

Out of Our Minds: The Many Faces of Madness in Gaming Mechanics

There are now a great many games that attempt, in some way, to model madness and morality, with greater or lesser degrees of success. I'm not aiming to lay down some expert opinion here; these are just a few thoughts on some of these systems.

D&D had its clear-cut axis of good vs evil; characters were good, neutral or evil. In AD&D this was expanded into the (in)famous binary alignment system, with every character's alignment lying on two axes: Good-Neutral-Evil, with good defined as heroic, charitable and giving, and evil as villainous, grasping and dominating; and Chaotic-Neutral-Lawful, defining your attitude to law, order and rules in general. This wasn't a terrible system, although I suspect it led to a massive glut in the Chaotic-Good bracket, since that way you could feel good about yourself and still show a middle finger to the man and embark on epic debauches between adventures, so why not go that route (unless you wanted to be one of the character classes that required you to be Lawful or Neutral in some way).

Call of Cthulhu mixed things up a bit by making morality a player choice and focusing on Sanity as a core mechanic and an ever-dwindling resource. It was a focus of the game and it has always affected the way that players approach the game, possibly too much so when parties of CoC investigators habitually burn books and turn away from the adventure because they know it to be the best survival strategy. On the up side, it means that even in the event of an unlikely triumph, there is a cost to everything.

White Wolf's World of Darkness has a morality system and a madness system, but links them (except in its latest iteration, God Machine, which recognises that linking moral decline to madness was a somewhat Victorian idea, held over from the old WoD, in which the only mechanical morality system was the decaying humanity of vampire characters. Now, some people criticise the absence of a morality mechanic for other characters, but in the setting it made sense. Vampires were unique in that they were not fully functional moral agents. Werewolves and Mages could choose to be arseholes or heroes or anything in between; vampires had to actively strive to be anything other than complete arseholes, such being the nature of their curse.

In the new WoD setting, everyone has a morality stat, although what it is and how it works varies without real consistency. It is clear, for example, why Mages need to hold to the path of Wisdom (of not abusing their power for personal advancement), but not why common human Morality ceases to have any impact on them. I've not played God Machine, but their system - which separates morality and madness entirely - looks better.

Then there is Unknown Armies, which has a system I really like, although it is not without its flaws. The system breaks your mental stability into five categories: Violence, Unnatural, Self, Helplessness and Isolation, representing key stimuli for madness. When confronted with violence, supernatural gribblies, something which makes you question your own self-image, an inability to act effectively or soul-crushing loneliness, you make a roll and if you fail, slip a little further into insanity.

What I like about UA, however, is that if you pass, you become a little more detached; Hardened, in the game's parlance. On the plus side, you can ignore a certain level of that stimuli now; on the minus side, you're a little less human in your interactions. What I like is that whatever happens, these things always change the character.

My final look, and the one that started this line of thought, is Trail of Cthulhu, which again differentiates more, offering both Sanity and Stability, the former standing for your connection to fundamentally human concepts and constructs of moral and right (or indeed wrong) behaviour, and the latter for your ability to act in a functional and directed manner. This is a useful divide in Mythos games, as it allows particularly for cultists - or investigators - to be clinically insane, morally bankrupt, and yet highly functional. Coming from the Gumshoe system, stability is also impacted by violence, so that the pragmatic solution of just shooting that cultist may still have an impact, although if you pass the roll you can shrug it off.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Gumshoe mechanic is that you can voluntarily spend Stability to improve your Stability roll, gambling a smaller loss against a greater, effectively accepting a mad justification to save you from worse.

I'm not sure which system I like best, but it definitely comes down to Trail/Gumshoe and UA. WoD's is the weakest, although God Machine's variation is much stronger. The fantasy games don't have a very good morality system at all, but then again, they don't entirely need it. Fantasy heroes are often not entirely moral agents either, instead being part of a more mythic narrative.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Camp NaNoWriMo - Musings on an SF Setting

The event: Camp NaNoWriMo, July 2013.
The target: 25,000 words, since I've got other stuff I'm doing.
The real goal: To see if the SF setting I've been percolating for nigh-on two decades has legs.

So, yeah, this is me using my eighteen-and-change years old SF setting and trying to write a story in it. It's a setting that has undergone a lot of changes in various phases, most recently in the past few months.

It started out beyond generic, I'll own to that, and the idea was an enlightened, alien-led Federation bordering a prejudiced, neo-feudal human Coalition, with the focus on the Federation. Then I got interested in the history of it and, in creating that I began to feel that the super-sophisticated Federation was actually less interesting than the Coalition, and my focus began to shift.

Then the alien antagonists got a bit of their own culture as I began to wonder why they were as aggressive as they were, and realised that they didn't make a lot of sense, culturally or economically. I treated the first as a bug and the second as a feature, and that's where gods, of a sort, came into the picture.

More recently, the neo-feudal structure of the Coalition, largely informed by all that Star Wars I watched as a kid, has been replaced with a more varied set of political systems. I've proactively gone through and tried to balance out my tendency to 'go with what I know' in terms of names, since that inevitably and unintentionally leads to a very white universe, and usually one overfull of Jameses and Marks. On the other hand, I didn't want tokens, so I am trying to make it all make sense and a part of that has been to develop the history from a 10 page timeline to something nearer 70. I also want to do at least one more run through and try to introduce more of a shift towards toponyms and patri- and matronymics in the aftermath of my 'this is why no transhuman evolution' reset Apocalypse, replacing to an extent modern racial distinctions with a sense of a very different cultural base.

The last run-through also saw a move away from direct SF cliche. I've known for a while that I wanted to maintain a mysterious genetic link between humans and what used to be the dog- and cat-people; something ancient and conspiratorial. On the other hand, dog- and cat- and snake-people was increasingly out of place and just kind of there 'cause it's how you do. My brainstorm was to ditch the non-mammalian examples - they'll become something else in the final pass - and say that the three races all evolved from a common, possibly engineered, primate base, but by different routes, so that whereas on Earth the dominant hominid species descended from valley-dwelling apes, on the other worlds a baboon-like primate and something more like a forest monkey took the lead.

This also tends towards losing the tails, which just works better in space suits.

I've also removed any use of actual extant religions, albeit a little bit by filing the serial numbers off. The big theocratic power is still a weird mix of Catholic and Anglican administration (I want my interplanetary church to have a curia and big hats, but also deans and chapters, and a Barchester-esque touch to its ecumenical politics) with an expansionist slant. I think I do tend to bias towards (mis)representing the Abrahamic faiths, and maybe some touches of Hinduism, perhaps because I feel that they are big enough and old enough to look out for themselves.

So, that's a rough account of the evolution of this setting. Later posts will probably expand on some details.

Oh, and at some point I got Cthulhu on it; as you do.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

God Machine

So, just from nosing around in the free to download rules conversion sampler for the new God Machine book (essentially New WoD Revised with variable Metaplot), I am tempted to run something in this setting; probably a mortals game, smallish scale using the core rules and full TT mechanics.

I like the tweaks to the system, for the most part. I like the idea of a game where mystery cults are a core mechanic.

It's possible I'd just rather play Unknown Armies, of course.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Chandler and Me

"In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor--by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.

"He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man's money dishonestly and no man's insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks--that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for

"The story is this man's adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in."

- Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

This is Raymond Chandler's formula for the character of the detective, and it is one that I apply broadly to most of the characters I create, either for games or for my own writing. It started out subconsciously, without any particular awareness of the Chandler quote, and then I heard it in its entirety and it was as if it codified a lot of what I intended all along.

I don't like characters who are never wrong, and who have never been wrong. I want my characters to make mistakes - in games, not to the point of doing it on purpose, but if sometimes you have to be unkind because your character would be unkind, then you sure as hell ought to walk off a cliff if your character wouldn't see it coming - but that is in a large part because I want them to have a chance to make up for them. Not that redemption is necessarily forgiveness, nor a return to a state of purity in this context, but 'trying harder' is a core concept.

I struggle to play mean characters. I don't like them and I don't like portraying them. Partly, this is because I have to be able to inhabit their skin at least for a time, and I worry enough that I bully people in real life without meaning to, just by being large and loud.

In Chandlerian terms, I apply meanness broadly. The hero - and a character should be the hero of their own tale at least - should not be cruel, although he can be hard; should not be tight-fisted, even if cautious; should not despise the faith of others, even if he has none of his own; should not be selfish, even if he is self-sufficient.

Precise codes come and go, but there is always a place in the world for honour of a sort. The hero should keep his word to those who deserve it of him, and find it hard to give to those who don't. He is honest within reason, but never feels bound to speak the truth to those who are false, nor to those for whom the truth brings more harm than good. He will, to borrow from Chesterton's Father Brown, allow a bad man to receive false praise if none are harmed by it, but never an innocent to be maligned. But he ought not to press his code, nor boast of it; his word is his bond simply because it is. He has not chosen to buck the world in this; rather he sees the world as out of step with the way things ought to be done and while not often surprised by the iniquities of those around him, he is disappointed every time.

Private Life
It is not a requirement that a movie or a book have a sex scene, nor a romance. Too often these things get tacked on and it always feels like it. For a character in a game this is more important still. It is not a requirement of a character that they have a relationship.

"He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world" is at the core of it. If the character can look at someone else and say 'they are better than me', then he should be striving to be better still.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Golden College Days

Another random idea for a game for grown-ups (sort of), is the epistolary campaign, although they can be tough to organise and keep going. I was in one once that sort of fell apart, in my case because the resources of Camberley public library were simply insufficient for the rigorous academic research involved. The advantages are that there is no need to get anyone together, the group can be theoretically any size and there is no need for a fixed time slot. In addition, plenty of folks really jam on serious letter writing.

Some possibilities:

1) De Profundis. Easiest, in many ways, as it requires no GM and no central organisation, but does require serious commitment from the player group.

2) Mail Call of Cthulhu. More structured than DP, this would require a GM to provide the backing plot. The two main variations would be investigator and cult focused, and it might be fun to run two games simultaneously, with one troupe playing a disparate group of investigators and the other the leaders of a set of cells in the Cthulhu cult.


3) Golden College Days. The concept which prompted this post: A WFRP epistolary campaign with a group of former buddies from the colleges of Altdorf stumbling on the disparate arms of an Empire-spanning conspiracy.

4) Postcards from the Hedge. A Changeling: the Lost campaign, focusing on letters and dreams, with the scattered members of a motley investigating the manifestations of their erstwhile Keeper. It would be a slightly CoCish game of Lost, but then that style suits the epistolary format, given that mythos fiction is rooted in it and takes much of its form from its constraints.

The written letter form of this concept would be rooted in a fear of electronic communication (They can intercept celphones in the Hedge, so why not elsewhere? Why not email?), and perhaps a sense of tradition drawing on the strange and feudal nature of Lost society. You could do something similar with the Invictus, of course, but most of the people I know who would jam on that already do so as a sub-game of the IoD national Requiem chronicle.

5) Munchausen by Proxy. Easily my most tasteless pun of the year to date, this would be a variation on the 'live action' Adventures of Baron Munchausen, played by mail, with the players - again, without a GM - competing in tale-telling by mail. The exact structure might need some work for this one.

Thursday, 14 March 2013


Thinking about running tabletop games, while I still want to find the time some time to run a 40K campaign, it occurred to me that something much more doable would be to organise some one-shot Fiasco sessions.

Fiasco has many advantages for the busy gamer. It's highly structured and runs as a one-shot game of about 2-3 hours length. It's focused on a series of one-to-one scenes which the other players watch and adjudicate on, which makes it just about perfect for Skype or Hangout play. There are online dice rollers and simultaneous file sharing software to run the index cards and all-important dice. It requires about four players overall and as there is no chronicle does not require a fixed group.

ETA: Oh yes, and most of the playsets are free, making it a doddle for everyone to get a copy even if playing over Skype.

The more I think of it, the more perfect it seems.

So, now I just need to pitch it to you guys:

Fiasco was designed to accommodate collaborative storytelling in the milieu of modern noir; the world of the Cohen Brothers and Elmore Leonard, where greed and lust and the occasional good intention collide in a catastrophe of post-hubristic downfall, and while later playsets have widened the field a little, it still holds to the same basic structure.

Set-up - Roll a bunch of dice and use those with the playset's tables to determine the relationships between your characters and the needs, objects and locations they will interact with. Once those are established, decide who you're actually playing.

Act 1 - Take it in turns to play out scenes which develop the themes you've selected.

Tilt - Set up a change halfway through.

Act 2 - As Act 1, but with a focus on moving to your resolution.

Epilogue - A final montage for your characters.

The dice not only set the options for plot elements, but also provide a pacing mechanism. Each scene gives someone a die. When you're halfway through, you tilt; when you're out, it's done and you narrate your epilogue based on the dice you've collected. It's not exactly roleplaying the way we're used to it, but it looks like a lot of fun.

Need more explanation/convincing? Here's Table Top doing Fiasco:


Act 1:

Act 2:

Friday, 8 March 2013

A Skype to Victory?

Recently, I've been playing in a number of games based on Skype or Google+ Hangout. These were/are:

Atomic Horror - An alternate history game using the Savage Worlds system which can perhaps best be described as a Manhattan Project spy caper with stealth Cthulhu and giant atomic laser ants. It marked perhaps the only time I am likely to play an actual Nazi.

Troy! - A 'bronze age superhero' game running under Strands of Fate, in which the PCs are the heroes of Troy, super-powered by their semi-divine parentage. Of all the games discussed here, this one works best, in part because it is the one most reliant for its success on verbal sparring and superhero in-jokes.

Stars Without Number - Post-ubertech space opera. The other two are run by +Jon Lea; this one by +James Holloway.

In all three I took the role of team weirdo, but then I seem to do that anyway, although I hope without disrupting other people's games.

It's an odd way of playing, although pretty good if you get used to it. The only problem I have found is an exaggeration of the tendency for 'the talker' to monopolise the game, where one exists, as it is harder to stay in the GM's view and consciousness when the screen switches to the current speaker.

ETA: I don't actually feel this is the fault entirely of either the talker or the GM; the rest of the players also chip in by not chipping in, as it were. I think that there is a false sense of almost telephone manners that takes over, however, and the medium itself essentially encourages us not to interrupt.

Still, it's working better than my efforts to get a table top game going and on most days it goes well.

Witnesses to Events Only Dreamed Of

"I’m a reliable witness, you’re a reliable witness, practically all God’s children are reliable witnesses in their own estimation - which makes it funny how such different ideas of the same affair get about. Almost the only people I know who agree word for word on what they saw on the night of July 15th are Phyllis and I. And as Phyllis happens to be my wife, people said, in their kindly way behind our backs, that I “overpersuaded” her, a thought that could only proceed from someone who did know Phyllis"
- John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes

As John Wyndham noted in the preface to The Kraken Wakes, witnesses are funny things. Studies have shown that the problem is in the function of memory. Beyond the immediate recall of events from our short term memory, every act of remembering involves reconstructing the pattern of electrical impulses from a biochemical copy, or some such thing, in our long-term memory. I'm not a neuroscientist, but I know enough to understand that a useful shorthand is to imagine getting someone to redraw the Mona Lisa from a photograph three times. Not only will none of those images be exactly like the Mona Lisa (assuming the person is not an expert forger) but no two of them will be exactly alike. The same is true of memory, in that each time we recall a memory we effectively redraw it, in a version that is similar, but not quite identical, to the original or to any other version.

This is something that is exacerbated in roleplaying, as in all probability the original incident being recalled by any two PCs happened primarily in their imaginations in the first place, and as a result will never have been identical to begin with. If I, as hypothetical ST of this hypothetical scene, say that you see a doctor walk through the doors of a hospital, I may imagine I am being clear, but that is because I have made a series of assumptions based on my own prejudices and presented you with a scene that you will embroider with your own preconceptions.

Is the doctor male or female? Black, white, Asian? What are they wearing? We'll probably all agree on the white coat (which is ridiculous; why would the doctor be wearing his white coat on the way into work?), but differ on details of the rest depending on what we were expecting.

This can make playing an investigator in a large scale LARP immensely frustrating, as you can get wildly different stories from several characters who all believe that they are telling the honest and only truth. As a case in point, I've just had to clarify whether a message was delivered telepathically, or by phone, and we came close to having to go to the original ST for that. We almost certainly will have to go to the ST for the precise content as it was fudged somewhat, and as a result the information will probably be useless to me as it can't actually provide any insight into the situation as those words were not used at the time.

TLDR: It's a pain.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Axemurder Chronicles

"I say, dear; looks like a spot of zombies."
"Dashed bad show, dear. Aziz; bring Daisy in from the garden."
"I'm sorry, my lady; Daisy seems to have run off."
"Well, dash it all. I suppose we'll just have to hop in the jallopy and go looking for her, what."
In this game, the Axemurder family need to retrieve their prized pug Daisy from the far side of a town full of zombies and bereft of a clear sense of civic identity. In turn 1, I opted to take the car and, as this already made a noise, Aziz - the only one of my group with a shooter - shot a zombie.

It was +Stephen Fleetwood who decided that 'Aziz' was actually called Brian, but that his principals were unable to see past the fez.

The 'initiative' system was interesting, with different groups acting on the turn of a card.
"Dashed bad traffic."
Colonel Axemurder proved adept at running down the regulation zombies, but the 'drive like the devil' strategy was somewhat hampered by the lack of space on the board. The hordes (large base of zombies, seen at the bottom of the picture above) were an insurmountable obstacle, and with a truck full of squaddies behind and a jeepload of hillbillies coming the other way, the jallopy dash seemed doomed.
"Better leave the car and continue on foot."
Unable to fit the car down the back of the building, the Axemurders went on foot. This was a weakness we identified in analysis, allowing them to almost completely evade zed contact for the middle game.

Meanwhile, their sterling work - and that of the military - was allowing the Criminal Element free access to the supply depot.
"Daisy! Come away from those hillbillies."
The McCletus Clan had also stopped, faced with traffic and a zombie infection, although the presence of a machinegun on their jeep meant that if there were points, they would have been contenders for victory on them. It did mean that they were constantly attracting zombies however, and perhaps as a result both they and the Military suffered more losses than the Axemurders, who ultimately came through with some light and non-infectious nibbling.
Operation Hillbilly shield.
There was some potential for player conflict as the McCletuses ran to rescue 'Maw' from right by the jallopy. If they'd tried to make a getaway in the Axemurdermobile, it might have gotten ugly, especially as there actually weren't rules for us to fight each other.

!Ramming Speed!"
 The 'Tank' zombies were much harder to run down, and by this point the Colonel was not at his best. Fortunately Lady Axemurder came through with some fine axe work.
After that, we made a pretty straight run home, hampered only by that last horde, as we didn't fancy being in snacking range if they activated.

Zombie Apocalypse - A Weekend at Axemurder Hall

So let's begin with some zombies.

My friend James is a sort of mini painter without portfolio, in that he doesn't have a game that he paints for, so much as a collection of concepts. One of the uses he puts this to is a semi-homebrewed zombie game.
The Axemurder family at home. Colonel Peregrine, Earl Axemurder; Celia, Lady Axemurder (nee McStabberson); the Dowager Countess Letitia 'Gran' Axemurder; Daisy the pug; and Brian 'Aziz' Collins, with the Colonel's beloved jallopy. Pictured in the drive of Axemurder Hall.
The game features several groups scurrying across a post-apocalyptic field to achieve a mission of greater or lesser importance. The Military want to rescue a lost squad and recapture a science station, the Criminal Element to loot a supply station and so on. My team, the Axemurder family, had to cross the board and rescue Daisy, their beloved pet pug.

I'll follow this post with some more images and commentary, but in general the game went well, and one of the more interesting emergent aspects was the way in which the non-conflicting goals of the groups created indirect interaction between the groups. The victorious Criminal Element emerged so partly by sneaking along behind the noisier groups and from the fact that both teams who started at or near the supply station kicked off by clearing a path to drive out, leaving it relatively free from zombies, while my own Axemurder clan emerged almost unscathed by making two quick end runs then leaving the zombies to pursue other, louder teams.

While there is no direct conflict between the teams (nor even rules for it), this indirect influence makes the game interesting and has the potential to make it more so once the players get to know the system. The key to victory in a veteran game is likely to lie in reading the other players' jack moves ahead of time and thus being ready to exploit opportunities.

Photos by me, game, setting and miniatures by +James Holloway.

Out of my Mind

And then I realised if I were going to split off sections, I really needed a game blog.