Sunday, August 16, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] Inside Out and games, games, games!

Rafael Chandler is running a Kickstarter campaign for the second edition of his play-by-videochat RPG, Viewscream. Having played Viewscream a few times before and participated in the second edition playtest, I decided to go ahead and back it (especially considering you get the whole thing for backing at just $10).

Achievements Unlocked
I'm continuing to binge watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars and am now up to halfway through season four. The Umbara arc has to be my favourite of the season so far, challenging Rex's belief in following the chain of command. One can only hope that some of Rex's men will remember the lesson they learned on Umbara when Order 66 happens, but it's probably something that'll never come up in the series itself.

On Tuesday, I got to play Tragedy Looper for the second time. Tragedy Looper is a time-travelling deduction game, sort of like Cluedo meets Steins;Gate. It's a mostly co-operative game where the objective for most of the players is to prevent a tragedy of some sort from taking place, while one player takes on the role of the 'mastermind' whose goal is to cause the tragedy in question. The players have several 'loops' to try and influence events so that the tragedy doesn't come to pass, and each loop consists of several days (assuming it isn't ended prematurely by the mastermind fulfilling their win condition). It's a game that takes a couple of tries to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty cool.

After that we played a game of Forbidden Island, in which we managed to acquire all four treasures and escape with one whole turn to spare. I think we got off easier than we should have though, as I suspect I might have forgotten to abide by the hand limit of five at one point. I'm pretty sure I had two helicopter lifts and four matching treasure cards, so I really should have had to get rid of one of the helicopter lifts. Since we needed at least one helicopter lift to win the game, and I had to use another to get people to the landing site, I think things would have gone much worse had I remembered to discard when I was supposed to. Oh well, we had fun, which is the main thing.

After that we played the Resident Evil Deck Building game, which I would have won if not for my rocket launcher being defeated by a card which ignored damage the weapon with the lowest ammo cost (the rocket launcher costs no ammo), robbing me of the decorations I'd have gotten from defeating that monster. Instead, Peter won the game, having defeated Wesker a turn earlier.

On Wednesday, a group of us went to see Inside Out, the new Pixar film. I hadn't heard about the movie until I was invited to come along, but Pixar's films are generally of a high enough standard that I decided it was worth checking out. I'm glad I did, as the movie was a lot of fun. Maybe not Pixar's best, but still very good, striking a fine balance between hilarity and drama. I'd read a few reviews online about it being too dark for the target audience, but honestly I think that's just being ridiculous and over-protective.

After the movie, we went back to Nicky's house for an all-night gaming get-together. We played Sentinels of the Multiverse and defeated Grand Warlord Voss, with Doc's character - Fanatic - contributing the most towards our victory. He got in several high damage attacks, and towards the end he was dealing damage to the enemy at the start of every turn!

After another game of Tragedy Looper, we also played Chrononauts (I can't recall who won that game) and then I finally got another chance to try out my copy of Doctor Who: The Card Game. It took us a while to get the hang of how the game played, but eventually we got the hang of it. In the end, Heather triggered the game ending and finished with the most victory points.

There had been plans for some kind of roleplaying session later on, but our would-be GM had to leave earlier than planned. Instead, Peter and I settled down to play a one-on-one game of Firefly while the others headed to bed. We played until about three or four in the morning, and the game went poorly for me to say the least. I got hit by Reavers on three or four different occasions (two of which occurred within the same turn) and encountered the Alliance Cruiser two times (one of which left me stripped of the contraband I was in the middle of shipping). In the end, Peter had amassed enough crew and resources to sail through the objectives, whereas I don't think I managed to complete a single one. As good as the Firefly board game is, I can't shake the feeling that it has it in for me somehow with the number of times I get hit by the Reaver drop and Alliance Cruiser cards. Mind you, Peter wasn't wrong in saying I should have sought out a mechanic or ship upgrade to help avoid the former being as big a problem. Something to bear in mind for the next time I play, I suppose.

Yesterday I listened to the full audiobook of Star Wars: Razor's Edge, book one in the Empire and Rebellion duology. It was a decent enough story, and the audiobook had somewhat higher production values than most. It wasn't a full-cast audiodrama, but it did have background music and sound effects which enhanced the sense that I was actually listening to a Star Wars adventure.

Later on, I finally got around to watching the finale of Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. The series ended on a massive cliffhanger (which, in retrospect, I should have seen coming) with the promise that 'we'll find out what season'. So on the one hand, I'm cursing Wil Wheaton's name for leaving things hanging like that, but on the other hand it seems like they're pretty sure they're doing a second season so...yay!

Works In Progress
I know I'm definitely going to be running the Last Stop adventure for Kuro as one of my one-shots in September, so I'll only need to read through the rules and the adventure a couple of times the week before then to prepare for that. In the meantime, I still need to decide what I want to run as my second one-shot (if I decide to bother running a second one, that is).

I had originally thought to run Feng Shui 2, but that's really going to depend on whether I can get hold of the print edition before the one-shot fortnight in late September. If I can't get hold of that, then I won't feel 100% comfortable running without a physical copy of the rules to refer to. I have a half-dozen options to turn to as alternatives, not least of which is the new Fantasy AGE RPG (which I should have the physical copy of before too long) and the Star Wars: Age of Rebellion RPG. Both of those will require a bit of extra effort to prepare for. I'd need some idea for a setting to run Fantasy AGE in, and the Star Wars RPG requires special dice to play (and it wouldn't hurt to get hold of a GM screen for it as well).

Anyway, I've got to get ready for work now, so that's all for today. I'll try to make more posts this week if I can. See you later!

Monday, August 10, 2015

[RPG Musings] Do You Really Want To Run A Game?

I made a mistake in running Camelot Trigger over the summer break. Not because I don't like the Fate Core system or because I didn't like the setting; I love the system and I see a lot of possibilities in the setting. The problem arose because my reasons for running a campaign over the summer were bad ones. I didn't have any particular urge to run something, in fact I was still winding down from wrapping up my Firefly campaign this semester. I was not ready to jump back behind the GM screen so soon. But I did it anyway. I put together a shortlist of games I was interested enough in to run (and which I figured my players would be interested in too) and I decided to run the one that got the highest score in interest level from the group. That ended up being Camelot Trigger.

It wasn't all bad. The players certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, but I felt like I was phoning it in as a GM. I failed to do my usual homework and quiz the PCs to get a better idea of how to tie things to them. I had only the vaguest idea of an antagonist going in and no idea what they were up to. It wasn't until I took a leaf out of Dungeon World's book and created fronts for the game that things started to come together, but that came too late. Long story short, I went into the game when I was feeling creatively exhausted and as such I struggled to build a compelling story around my players' characters.

Why did I do this to myself? Because I felt an obligation to run something. Part of that comes from being a GM at GUGS - a university roleplaying society - where there is (usually) a large number of people looking for games and a short supply of GMs to run games for them. Part of it was because I figured I should keep myself in practice as a GM and decided to do so by jumping right into running another campaign.

Here's the thing: the moment GMing games becomes something you feel you have to do, rather than something you actually want to do and are excited about, that's when you need to take a time out.

If you run a game because you feel you have to (but really, you're not in the right mood or state of mind, or whatever), you're just not going to be going into it with the energy and enthusiasm you need to make the game sing. I found that I failed to be descriptive too often and my NPC dialogues were flat. Maybe, over the course of running, you'll start to warm up to it, but it might come too late. Certainly, towards the end of Camelot Trigger I was starting to have some cool ideas for the campaign, but I'd already created a tangle of half-baked plots to resolve by that point. If you go in with the wrong attitude, this is not going to be fun for you and, as a result, the risk is that it won't be fun for your players either. But that's beside the point.

The gamemaster is a player too. They should be having fun.

If you think you're going to have fun running, by all means go ahead. But if you're just running because someone has to then, for you're own sake, don't. Take a time out, try playing as a player character for a bit (if you can find a game to join, that is). When you feel like you want to run a game again, take a moment and ask yourself if you really want to or you just feel like you should. If you really want to, maybe then it's time to go back.

Until then, give yourself a break. That's what I'm going to do.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] Fantasy AGE, Star Wars, and Titansgrave

Having found a discount deal for Star Wars: Age of Rebellion, I was able to both order that and pre-order the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook for just a little more than Age of Rebellion would normally cost on its own.

Acheivements Unlocked
Taking a week's break after attending my nephew's wedding over the weekend (and to recover from a slight bug I seem to have picked up while there), I've spent much of my time this week catching up on the Campaign and One Shot podcasts, as well as binge watching the Star Wars: The Clone Wars CGI series. I avoided watching it for a long time, not expecting much from it because of its ties to the prequel trilogy, but it turns out it's actually not half bad.

It's got the action and adventure one expects of Star Wars, but it also portrays the Clone Wars themselves with surprising maturity for a series aimed primarily at children. Yes, there's a lot of set-piece action, but the series never shies away from showing the terrible cost of conflict on such a scale, though this is only felt on the Republic side since the Separatists' forces are mostly droids or evil Sith lords. They do make the effort in the third season to show that there are good people in the Separatist camp as well. The minimal amount of Jar Jar appearances also doesn't hurt my enjoyment of the show.

Then there was this week's episode of Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. The latest session was largely Wil Wheaton narrating a bunch of cutscenes in which each of the player characters experience nightmarish visions prior to the climactic battle, with the players' only input being through sadistic choices presented to them as part of the visions. While it is more than a bit railroad-y, I think the emotional payoff makes it well worth it. Each vision sequence was nicely tailored to each of the players' characters, and the players themselves certainly seemed to be moved by Wheaton's narration. So, while I consider the extensive use of cutscenes a bold move - and one I'd be reluctant to use myself - I have to commend Wheaton for making it work in this instance.

Friday, August 7, 2015

RPGaDay 2015: Week 1

Returning to Google+ and other social media for a second year is the RPGaDay hashtag introduced by David F. Chapman, the designer of the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG which I absolutely love. #RPGaDay is Chapman's way of getting folks to talk about the roleplaying hobby online, by posting the image below with a list of topics to post about over the course of the month of August.

I've already been posting my responses on Google+ for the past week, but since things have been quiet over here on the blog, and I want to get a start on fixing that, I thought I'd repost the last seven days' worth of posts on here. So, without further ado, here are my answers to the first week of prompts:

1. Forthcoming game you're most looking forward to
At the moment I'm looking forward to the Fantasy AGE Corebook. Besides Dungeon World, it looks like the most appealing Fantasy roleplaying alternative to D&D. The system (from what I've seen on Titansgrave and the Tabletop episode of Dragon Age) is light enough on crunch for my personal taste.

2. Kickstarted game most pleased you backed
Even though I haven't had a chance to play it yet, I'm very pleased with the final product of Primetime Adventures 3rd Edition. Not a lot has changed from 2nd edition, but the rules are much better presented and add a bit more structure to the running of the game.

I'm really looking forward to having the opportunity to run/play it.

3. Favourite new game of the last 12 months

Has to be Urban Shadows. Even though (same as PTA 3) I've yet to play it, just reading the PDF has me wishing for the opportunity to do so. It's got one of the most well-explained versions of the Powered by the Apocalypse system and play style that I've read. 

I love how the debt and corruption mechanics evoke the kind of urban fantasy stories it's built to emulate, and the game's start of session moves are designed to help players and the MC generate interesting conflicts and get the ball rolling right away. 

The player character archetypes are all pretty awesome too, I don't think there's a single one I wouldn't consider playing at some point. If I intended to run another campaign at GUGS this year (and, right now, I don't) I'd strongly consider running this.

4. Most surprising game
When I first got into the Powered by the Apocalypse system with Monster of the Week the game that started it all, Apocalypse World, was the one I was least interested in.

I wasn't very familiar with the post-apocalyptic genre, and the game's mature themes (particularly the presence of sex moves) were a little intimidating to me at the time.

Fast-forward to today: I've listened to various Apocalypse World APs, read and watched a few post-apocalyptic stories (not least of which being Mad Max: Fury Road) and grown more willing to push my comfort zones as a GM and player.

The end result of all that being that, rather than being the least interesting PbtA game to me, Apocalypse World is now the version I'm most interested in trying out (besides Urban Shadows, of course). Yet, sadly, it seems it's still the one I'm least likely to play or run anytime soon. Still, I'll keep my fingers crossed!

5. Most recent RPG purchase
My most recent RPG purchase is The Quiet Year by Avery McDaldno. It's really more of a world building game than a roleplaying game, but whatever.

I bought it because I wanted more GMless gaming options to fall back on during my break from running games, and it was also fairly cheap. 

I haven't played it yet, but I'll see if I can get a game in before the new semester starts.

6. Most recent RPG played
The most recent RPG I played as a player was an intro session of Lady Blackbird with the group I usually play Tears of a Machine with. I played Naomi and kicked off our escape from the Hand of Sorrow by literally breaking the cell I was sharing with Snargle.

Later, Snargle pulled off a Firefly-style bluff, threatening to eviscerate the hangar guards with a non-existent 'etheric accelerator cannon' unless they stood down. (Lady Blackbird backed his play with her blood magic by creating a lightning effect in front of the Owl.)

GMing also counts as playing though, so by that reasoning the most recent game I played was actually the season finale of my Camelot Trigger campaign at GUGS.

Having thwarted an attempted invasion of Avaluna Base by MerGN-A's forces, Lord Marr tracked down the T1000-like infiltrator droid and destroyed it with no small amount of difficulty.

Meanwhile, his ward M4-D06 and the edge knight L13T-KYN-35 exposed Marr's rival, Lord Vals as the orchestrator of the sabotage of M4-D06's armour among other things.

Vals was stripped of his lands and title, which were turned over to Marr as compensation. M4-D06 was appointed steward of Marr's new territory. In recognition of his services in the battle and his help in repairs to the city, L13T was officially knighted and given a place in the royal court's engineering corps. The end...for now.

7. Favourite free RPG
Fate Core is technically a free RPG, since the PDF is free to download from Evil Hat's website and the SRD is also freely available online. I admit I haven't done much with it beyond running my Camelot Trigger mini-campaign, but I do really like the system.

In it's basic form it's rules-light, it's extremely flexible and easy to hack - which makes it suitable for a variety of different genres - and the way the system works allows players and GMs to tie stories to the characters rather than the stories being something that just happens to take place around the characters. 

Due to my own inexperience with the system, I didn't make the best use of the PCs' aspects to build the story, but that's no fault of the game - purely my own - and it's not going to put me off running the system again and improving upon my mistakes next time.