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.