Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Make It So

This is a micro-hack for A Penny for My Thoughts: you will need a copy of that game in order to play this. You'll also need a familiarity with the tropes of Star Trek and similar space operas.

The distant future. A galaxy lying open, inviting exploration. You are are part of the bridge crew of an interstellar craft, seeking out new worlds and new life-forms, to expand your civilization's knowledge of their place in the universe. In this game, you all take on the roles of the executive officers on-board your star ship, but you also take turns playing the Captain, directing the ship onward and choosing from the best options presented by the crew. In order to play, you'll need to change many of the assumptions & set-up procedures of A Penny for My Thoughts, but the heart of the mechanics stays the same.

Image result for star trek original seriesStarring...

Unlike Penny, in this hack you all know who you're playing, in the form of the bridge officer role you will take on: there are some obvious ones to choose from (Science Officer, Security Chief, Comms Officer, Navigator, etc.) but you can make up your own with the agreement of all the players. The choice of bridge officers goes a long way to setting the tone of the game: if you don't have a Gunnery Officer, for example, then you're not going to be fighting many space battles, whereas if you have a Ship's Counselor on the bridge, suddenly diplomatic negotiation becomes much more tenable.

You're free to create any sort of backstory & details you like about your character: are they human, alien, a hybrid or an android? Do they have any unusual skills or natural abilities? What is their personality like and do they have any history with other crew members? You know how to do this.

Red Alerts

Instead of Memory Triggers, you create Red Alerts: these are like pre-credits kickers in the original series of Star Trek, but they can also be twists and turns in an ongoing plot or the cliff-hanger at the end of a two-part episode in later series. They can be simple and obvious (An alien ship suddenly decloaks and charges it's weapons; you receive a distress call from a colony world that is afflicted with plague) or strange and esoteric (A vast, disembodied eye approaches and blocks further progress; Albert Einstein and Al Capone burst onto the bridge and hijack the ship.)

Create about 5 Red Alerts each as usual and place them within reach of all the players; or, if playing on-line as I often do, create a shared spreadsheet for everyone to post their's in.

Mission Structure

From here, the structure of the game plays out more or less as normal, though instead of a Traveler, you have a Captain, and the pennies represent commission and commendation. Also, instead of a separate questionnaire for each player, you can use a shared one that represents a whole episode: this doesn't need any specifically framed prompts on it, e.g. "Recall a pleasant memory," since the framing is largely provided by the Red Alerts drawn and the assumptions of a TV space opera.

As usual, the Reader chooses who goes first by giving them their penny: that player then becomes the Captain for the first act, draws a Red Alert (or uses some other random selector if playing online with a spreadsheet of Red Alerts) and answers guiding questions from the other players. Play continues in the standard way, with the Captain describing what is going on, outlining places, situations and dialogue, until it comes time to take some action.

When the Captain narrates the situation to a point that requires a decisive response, they ask their executive officers for options, picking two to suggest what to do and what the outcome of that action would be. These suggestions must be in keeping with the roles the players have chosen for themselves, so when the Captain asks the Chief Engineer or Science Officer for an option, they're expecting some kind of technobabble solution, but if they turn to the Gunnery Officer, then all hands to battle stations!

Image result for uss callisterAfter being presented with two options, the Captain chooses one and gives that officer a commendation (a penny) then continues to narrate as usual until they reach the end of the act. Unlike Penny, each player continues the same story when it is their turn to be Captain, though turns are determined as usual by seeing who has enough pennies in front of them and breaking ties in favour of the player who has not been the Captain for longest.

A whole episode consists of as many acts as there are players; when you reach the end of an episode (which can be in two parts if that feels right for the narrative, as suggested by the Red Alerts) then you can start a new one. It's up to you whether you reset to the beginning of play for a subsequent episode or, as with Penny, you keep the coins in front of every player as they are and simply require one more to act as the trigger for an act, e.g. the second episode requires a player to have three coins in front of them to become Captain.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Becoming Monsters

My most recent play of Blood & Water has given me pause to reflect on the role of monsters in the game and what happens when the residents start to become them... If you're just joining here (hello!), let's back that up a bit before we dive headlong into an analysis of what I mean.

Image result for being human ukSo, Blood & Water is a storygame that's shamelessly inspired by the British TV series Being Human, and to a lesser extent the New Zealand film What We Do in the Shadows: the premise is that some supernatural creatures who were once human (a ghost, vampire and werewolf in the TV series; just vampires in the film) share a house in a modern urban setting and have to deal with all the problems that set-up entails.

The game allows players to create any sort of once-human supernatural beings that they want and their take on each one becomes the mythology for all (or most) creatures of that type, so if they say "Vampires are sparkly," then they get a stake through their heart all vampires are sparkly by default. In my current online game, the three residents of a house in Fulham, London, are:

  • "Rocky", a 16th century alchemist who accidentally turned himself into a gargoyle; he turns to stone in direct sunlight and needs human flesh to replace his calcified constitution.
  • Martin, a professional football goalkeeper who woke up one morning as a zombie with no idea how it happened; he also needs human flesh to live.
  • François, a photographer with press contacts who lost his soul and became a spirit-trapper; he doesn't need human flesh, but he lacks any kind of empathy so he doesn't really care what his housemates get up to.

This set-up has lead directly to a situation where the residents have definitely acted as monsters: the zombie ate his ex-girlfriend, while the gargoyle ordered a 'take out' from his contact in the morgue at Charing Cross hospital. A visit from the police lead to the horrific deaths of two police officers, which they pinned on someone who had slightly annoyed them in the past and was seen as an 'easy mark.' This is hardly the way mundane, everyday human beings go about things, but there's nothing in the rules to say you can't act this way. For a long time with the design, I worried about that: what's to stop the PCs going on a rampage and just embracing their monstrous side? I toyed with various rules and mechanics to penalise that, but ultimately didn't because I want the consequences to emerge from the story.

Image result for zombie eatingThe PCs are nominally trying to act like human beings, so the more they act like monsters, the greater the complexity they find in their lives, but there's also the other side of the equation: if you act like a monster, the monsters will begin to accept you as one of them and likewise will expect you to accept them. The PCs in the current game are getting deep into this now and it's my role, as GM, to show them the consequences of their actions and ask them if they're sure that's what they want. If you're running Blood & Water and you're finding this aspect of the story problematic or challenging, here's my advice, with some hints about where I intend to take my players on their characters' journey next...

Making a Mark

When there are reports of scary goings on in one neighbourhood, people start disappearing or bodies begin piling up, the police and other authorities will take an interest and there's only so many times you can murder the investigators before you bring down an armed assault on your heads. If the residents act like monsters, the mundane society they live in will take notice and respond: it might be that the residents come across a shrine to the lost or fallen, or even a candlelight vigil to remember them, and when they look upon the photos of their victims or talk with their families, only the most hard-hearted villain would not question their life choices.

More directly, the residents are putting their street or even their house on the map and it's possible the innocent appearing visit from the local council authority or the gas fitters, water engineers, etc, might really be the cover for a much deeper investigation. You can't murder everyone who rings the doorbell, but the more you interact with them, the more chance there is that they will learn something: if this sort of thing spirals out of control, the residents might soon be looking at moving house, possibly with the police tracking their every move...

Do As I Do

Hey, it must be cool to be a monster; I mean you are, right? The greater the number of extreme & monstrous actions the residents take, the more normalised these sort of actions become, so who else is in their circles? Are they the only monsters they know? Even if they only really know mundane humans well, those people might start to think it's reasonable to carry a knife, gun or crucifix around for their own defence. In an atmosphere of horror, horror becomes the norm and the boundaries start to shift, making the unthinkable move towards the acceptable.

In one sense, this might give the residents a little cover: if they're not the only monsters committing murder, the heat might not come down on them so hard or so fast, but no-one is an island. Just as their victims may seem like anonymous opportunities to them, the few people they are associated with will appear to be anonymous opportunities to other monsters: you might have sworn never to eat your own family, but if you've made it acceptable to eat people in general, then aren't you a little bit to blame for what happens to them?

A Favour for a Favour

Let's say the residents outsource their needs and get everything they want no questions asked... but for a price. Did they think to ask what the price would be before they made the deal? What's the going rate for human flesh these days anyway? Even if the residents are just trying to do the minimum they have to in order to live and don't really see themselves as 'evil', they might be backed into a corner when the bill comes due.

Image result for shadowy figureIf they're lucky, then cash is acceptable, but they'll have to work for it: one of the foundations of Blood & Water is mixing mundane solutions with supernatural problems, so maybe they can set up a direct debit with their 'meat' supplier? They'd better actually have a job though, so make them go and do it, no matter what other matters are pressing for their attention.

Of course, if they're not working or if money is not acceptable, then they'll have to find another way to settle their debt, but if their supplier is merely a go-between, then who's really pulling the strings? Brokering a deal might mean accepting an obligation from an unseen third party with their own agenda: the residents may not have thought of themselves as monsters, but if they are doing the bidding of one, then what's the difference?

How Bad can it Get?

If the residents take a cavalier attitude to using their monstrous strengths and feeding their own desires & needs without concern for others, then things will escalate rapidly: those who observe these matters will not be content with merely investigating for long and will soon take direct action. If they are fully informed about what they are facing, then this might be an assault backed up by sorcerous powers and occult artifacts; if not, then it will be a bloodbath as the residents tear through the frail humans. laughing off the bullets... which is the proper time to deploy the rocket-propelled grenades.

On the flip side, doing a few dodgy favours for a silent partner might not seem like such a bad deal, especially if if was the sort of thing the residents would have been doing anyway: hey, what does it matter who they eat, as long as it's no-one they know? Unfortunately, with these obstacles removed, the silent partner is at last free to enact their evil plan and the next thing you know, it's good morning apocalypse! Give yourselves a pat on the back for helping to make it happen.

In short, being a monster is easy, because it's meant to be and the residents should reap the short term rewards, the emphasis being on short term; they're building up a heap of karma that will swallow them whole before long. It's being human that is hard, but accepting the short term hardships that entails will provide long terms benefits for the PCs and they might even find an equilibrium they can maintain for the rest of their unlives.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Why Don't You Use Magic?

This is a pretty straight forward story game, with elements of party card games such as Apples to Apples, You've Got Problems and the one that shall remain nameless. There's a little bit of set-up before you can begin to play, but there's some help with that in the guidelines below.

All I Do is Magic

This is going to be one of those games where you can play pretty much any kind of character you want, but not absolutely any kind, because you need a little bit of consensus around the table. You all have to agree to play in a particular setting and then to create characters who are not considered extraordinary in that setting; so, if you go modern day, then play taxi-drivers, retail clerks, police officers and so on, but don't be the President, the Queen, a movie star, etc. On the other hand, if you all agree to play that type of game, maybe something set at an exclusive resort or international event, then those characters would be perfectly acceptable. The same goes for other assumptions, such as playing in a fantasy world with elves & dragons, a comic-book world with aliens & robots, and so on.

Once you've agreed the setting, talk about the characters you're going to play and write down a few notes about them: you want a name, a short outline and a plot thread that can be as simple ("Get through the working day with as little stress as possible") or as strange ("Hide my neighbour's body somewhere out of sight before my in-laws come around for the anniversary dinner we're having tonight") as you like.

Here's the thing that makes this game different though: all the player characters can do magic, but not only that, magic is just about the only way they can make anything happen. Come up with any reason you like for this: maybe they found a spell book, maybe they all belong to the same coven, maybe it was just some freak accident, but they all have the power to cast spells. Before you can begin playing, you need the Spell Book: this is a deck of cards, with a very simple suggestion for a type of spell on each one. You need a deck of at least 40 cards, but you can have as many as you want if you can think of that many different spell types; you can prepare the Spell Book in advance or you can create it at the table as a group activity. The latter method works best for some groups, particularly if you are going off-piste in terms of the setting, e.g. if you want to use super-powers or weird science instead of spells, then you probably want a slightly different flavour of spell card.

If you want 40 ready-to-cast spell types, just copy out the list below, one per index card:

When you've got your full Spell Book, give it a quick shuffle and deal out one-quarter of the cards, so 10 in this case; turn those cards over and draw a circle in the upper right corner of each one. This represents a coin, meaning those cards have a Price when they are part of a spell. Put those cards to one side and draw another one-eighth of the total from the deck, so only 5 cards this time; put an X in the top right corner of each of those to mark them as Hexes. Now deal each player 3 cards from the Spell Book before shuffling the Price and Hex cards back in, so no-one starts the game with any Price or Hex cards in their hand. You are now ready to begin play!

Magic as a Way of Life

You're going to tell a story about the characters you've created, with each player taking it in turn to have their character's story placed under a magnifying glass; not just to see them more closely, but also to make them burn! It's up to everyone else to screw around with your character's life, making it harder for them in plausible ways and presenting you with obstacles to overcome. You can team up with other characters, tell intersecting stories or be completely independent of each other, that's up to you, just so long as you participate in making life hard for the other characters when they're the focus.

When you are the focus and your character is presented with an obstacle, you have three options:
  1. Walk away: you can always choose not to engage with an obstacle, but you don't get anything for doing so. If you need to be on the other side of a locked door, then walking away won't get you through it, but you might find another way in.
  2. Tackle it: if you want, you can try to tackle an obstacle without magic, using whatever mundane skills and abilities your character has... but it's hard & risky. For one thing, you can't just make up your character's abilities and if you haven't already mentioned or demonstrated that they can do it, then you probably can't. If it's an edge case, so you could say that it's implied that your character has that ability, you can have a go but it'll be even harder. Whatever the case, draw 5 cards from the Spell Book and turn them over; if there are any Hexes, you fail; if it was an edge case and there are any Prices or Hexes, then you fail. You succeed at what you were doing otherwise, but you have to discard all the cards in your hand and the other players choose three new spells you get from those you have drawn, discarding the other two.
  3. Use Magic! This is what the game's all about: if you can narrate a plausible method of using one of your spells to overcome an obstacle, then you can try it. Just show the spell card and describe how it ought to work, then draw 1, 2 or 3 cards from the deck; if you don't get any Hexes, you succeed!
When you cast a spell, the number of cards you draw depends on how strong a magical effect you need to produce to make what you said happen:
  • If it's small, light, close, personal and/or brief, draw 1 card.
  • If it's big, heavy, far away, effects another and/or endures, draw 2 cards.
  • If it's simply epic, draw 3 cards.
For example, with the Invisibility spell, I could:
  • Turn myself invisible for long enough to get past a guard, by drawing 1 card.
  • Turn a wall invisible so I can see through it, by drawing 2 cards.
  • Turn everyone except the person I'm chasing invisible so they can't hide in the crowd, by drawing 3 cards.
When you draw the cards, show them:
  • If none of them are Price or Hex cards, the spell works just fine and has the exact effect you intended.
  • For each Price drawn, the spell has an unwanted effect of some kind, but this is never more powerful than the spell being cast, so if you used 'Create Fire' to create a single small flame, then the Price can't be that the whole city burns down... but it could burn all the paper currency you have on you.
  • For each Hex drawn, you have a choice: you can abandon the whole spell, so it has no effect at all, or you can accept a curse; again, this can't be more powerful than the spell you were trying to cast, but it will linger until you find a way to get rid of it. So, following on from the above example, maybe from now on, all paper currency bursts into flames when you touch it or get too close.
It's up to all the other players at the table to decide what consequences Prices and Hexes have when drawn, following the guidelines above, but it's up to the player in the focus to narrate how their magic
overcomes any obstacles. Once an obstacle has been overcome, it's fully dealt with and can't be used to harass the player with anymore, unless they themselves bring the narration to a point where they have deal with it again. So, if they get through a locked door, it's not going to be a problem for them again unless they tell someone to go and lock it back up or otherwise draw attention to the fact that it is now unlocked. When you run out of cards to draw from, just turn over the discard pile and shuffle it to make a new Spell Book and just keep playing until it stops being fun!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

On The Way Up

Inspired by this article by Elina Gouliou, and drawing on my own recent positive experiences which I would like to thank all my friends & family for, this game is a short exercise for 3 to 6 players in playing to support each other and lift your characters.

Once upon a time, you all swore a pact together: now the time has come to make good on it. It is your duty, as a group, to make your way through the rough country to the very crest of the old hill and light the beacon as you promised you would. The way is not easy and the reward is little, but something inside you drives you onward.

Image result for hillStart by naming your character and describing them in loose terms: something as simple as "John, a chartered accountant" will do, but you could provide something like,"Lady Miranda du Pré, divorced neurosurgeon with a gambling addiction," if you want to. Everyone takes a a sheet of paper and folds it in half to make a tent, then writes their character name big & bold so that, when the tent stands on the table, your character name can easily be seen by everyone else.

You also need to pick two traits for your character, one that is praiseworthy and one that is unworthy; in the case of Lady Miranda, above, her steady hands may be her praiseworthy trait, while her tendency to avoid risky odds may be her unworthy trait. Don't choose niche traits that will be hard to fit into an outdoor survival narrative, demonstrate what you want to see in the story by choosing traits that reflect that, e.g. human compass, night vision, climbs like a monkey, first aider, etc, all make good praiseworthy traits. Unworthy traits are your fears or failings, e.g. afraid of the dark, scared of wild animals, allergic to insect bites, nervous eater and so on. Write your traits on your tent under your character's name, then place it on the table for all to see.

The final act of preparation is for everyone to place a coin on the table in front of their tent, heads or tails up doesn't matter, and then hold hands with the players to either side of them.

The basic rules that guide the progress of the game are as follows:

  • Players take turns framing very short scenes; the player to the left or right responds by supporting one of the acting players traits.
  • Whenever your unworthy trait is supported by the player to your left or right, you may let go of their hand; you both now have a free hand to use.
  • When you frame a scene with your unworthy trait, you may pick up one coin from in front of you with a free hand; you must invoke your unworthy trait before you can pick up a coin from the table. Once it has been picked up, it can only be passed from hand to hand; if it lands on the table again at any time, just pick it back up.
  • Your praiseworthy trait can only be supported by a player to your left or right if they have a free hand; when they support your praiseworthy trait, hold hands with that player again and, if you have any coins in that hand, pass them to that player.
  • You may only pass coins to a free hand, including your own, i.e. you must have both hands free in order to pass a coin from one to the other.
The game begins with any player framing a scene where their unworthy trait comes to the fore.

For example, I am playing Victor Atherton, a part-time model and limousine driver/bodyguard; his praiseworthy trait is 'always finds a shortcut', while his unworthy one is 'doesn't want to get muddy.' I quickly frame a scene by saying, "We hop over a dry-stone wall marking the edge of the rough country, only to find a deep, muddy furrow on the other side of it."

All scene framing in the game should be short and to the point, as in the above example; once you are done framing, a player to your left or right responds by supporting one of your traits, in this case the unworthy trait. You support a trait by narrating how it impacts the scene that has been framed, e.g. in the above case, the player to the left (or right) might add how Victor sinks up to his knees in the mud and then spends 10 minutes fastidiously wiping the dirt off with some of their limited supply of bottled water, much to the amusement and frustration of his friends.

The rules for bringing a praiseworthy trait into play are slightly different; you may only do so while you have a free hand and, once you have framed the scene, you must toss all the coins in that hand, if any. You successfully navigate the issue or obstacle you created if any of the coins come up heads; if there are no heads, or you had no coins to toss, then the obstacle is far greater or tougher than anticipated. You never exactly fail when you make use of a praiseworthy trait, but sometimes circumstances are against you and that is how the player who supports your trait should frame their response.

Image result for fire beaconFor example, I am playing Victor Atherton and I have a coin in my left hand, so I frame this scene: "We come to a crossroads in the woods, where the path divides into three; I consult my map to see where we should go." I toss the coin; if it comes up heads, the player to my left might say,"You spot a hidden, overgrown trail and guide us onto it, cutting a good 30 minutes off our journey; we will reach the old hill well before dusk now." If it comes up tails though, the player to my left should not narrate how I get us all lost, but instead say something like, "It suddenly starts to rain heavily, rapidly becoming too dark and damp to read the map; we hurry down the most sheltered looking path, hoping it is the right one." The response to using a praiseworthy trait should never downplay the character's abilities, it can at worst show how the challenge was greater than what they were prepared for.

Whatever the outcome of the coin toss, any coins in that hand are passed to the player who supported the praiseworthy trait when the two players hold hands again. The game continues in this manner, with players taking turns to frame scenes, until one player is holding all the coins in their hands and everyone is holding hands with each other again, so that there are no free hands remaining; finish the game by narrating how you all discharge your duty and light the beacon at the top of the hill.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Spaghetti and Ice-Cream

The title above isn't the name of my newest short game (though it is evocative; a no-prize to whoever comes up with the best suggestion!) but a reference to my Saturday, most of which I spent at Spaghetti ConJunction, the one-day RPG convention my name has somehow ended up attached to, along with the far-more actively involved Pookie and Simon Burley, who do most of the work (and must therefore take most of the blame.)

This isn't just going to be a con report: it's also me trying to honestly confront my own current relationship to the hobby, so if that kind of introspection isn't for you, then may I recommend this blog post about the day instead? It's a good read!

Let's begin at the beginning: just about a year and a half ago, on the day of Concrete Cow '16b, Simon and Pookie came up to me and told me about the great idea they'd had on the train down from Birmingham to Milton Keynes: why not have a one-day role-playing convention in Birmingham? Being the three designers/editors/reviewers of RPGs we knew in Birmingham, and having enjoyed Concrete Cow for many years, it was one of those "Why didn't we do this sooner?" moments.

To cut a long story short (and a lot of unreturned phone calls to venues we could have used), the first

Upstairs at the Geek Retreat
(please wear the safety goggles provided)
Spaghetti Conjunction was held at the recently opened Geek Retreat gaming cafe in central Birmingham on February 11th 2017. It was a satisfactory success, with minimal teething troubles and very little needing to be tweaked for the repeat performance we quickly planned to take place on October 21st of the same year.

So now, an important aside: as some of you know, my partner passed away suddenly on September 11th 2017 after a short illness. This was after years of health problems, but nothing we thought of as life-threatening. It still hurts to remember those last few days at his side and I can only console myself that I made that time as peaceful and happy for him as I could.

In the wake of this, I moved from Birmingham to stay with family in Milton Keynes for a time, until I could find my feet once more, but also to give me time to deal with my emotions. It's amazing how much undirected anger you can feel when the person you love is taken from you by forces beyond your control, so I'll take this space to thank my family for putting up with my irritability and mood swings for the past few months.

Pay no attention to Simon's subliminal advertising...
After much thought about it, I did attend the second Spaghetti ConJunction, but solely in an administrative capacity, taking money at the desk, giving out tickets, answering questions and making announcements. Much as I love games, whether running or playing them, I didn't trust my own emotional state enough to take on the role of someone else or take part in a story that could suddenly go in an unwelcome direction.

All of that finally brings us to Spaghetti ConJunction 2a, the one that has just taken place: I almost didn't attend this at all, with the possibility of  a short sea-side break dangling in front of me, but plans changed and I found myself free that weekend, so I changed my mind again! Therefore, it was still Pookie and Simon who did the real work of organising this convention, I just kind of stood at the back going "Yeah."

What a convention it was though! A great turnout that seemed to form some sort of paradox as it queued up the stairs to get in: for every one person Simon sold a ticket to, two more people joined the line! I don't know how this conundrum was solved, but it may have involved an infinite number of games.

I only ran two games out of that potential infinity though, both of which were new pitches that I hadn't tried before and both of which were composed of about 50% players I hadn't sat down at a table with before. In the morning, I ran The Real Housewives of Atlantis, using PrimeTime Adventures to create a sassy, heightened reality TV series: one of the stars was the very appropriately named 'Bubbles', which was the trigger for some Flintstones-esque puns about "Things going swimmingly", "Making a splash," and "Being at the front of the next wave."

Some tosh, but everyone agrees to smile for the camera
We made a buzzsheet at the start of the game, which is just a short list of words and phrases we thought of in relation to the subject & theme: among such obvious contributions as 'tridents, seahorses and crystals', someone added 'Impending doom', which guided a lot of the tone of the game that followed... but it turned out it was only impending doom, not doom itself, so Atlantis survived, but will no doubt be doomed again in a different way in every other episode. This also suggested a sequel series for the next season: The Real Housewives of Pompei!

During the afternoon break, I had one of the excellent cookies & chocolate ice-cream sundaes available at the venue, a real throat saver after all the talking in the morning. I had managed to keep the silly voices to a minimum, as almost all the action was in the hands of the PCs and the NPCs were more active in the background, doing things like turning on experimental bubble machines or being dated by at least three of the main cast. Suitably fortified by ice-cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and crumbled Oreos & Malteesers, I readied myself for the afternoon session...

The first part of the afternoon is the charity raffle, which given the incredible generosity of sponsors like )deep breath) Grim & Perilous, Modiphius Entertainment, Monkey Blood Design, Pelgrane Press, Psychic Cactus, Sentinel Hill Press, Sixtystone Press, and Stygian Fox Publishing... (and breathe)... had the potential for taking a big chunk out of the schedule, but this is not so in the capable hands of Simon Burley! In what seemed like mere moments, a dozen or so happy gamers stood with their phat lewt in their hands, not quite sure how it had got there!

My afternoon game was an intensely paranoid scenario concerning a private enterprise, three woman exploration team being sent to an alien planet to assess it for exploitation opportunities, but There's Somebody At the Door... and I can say no more about it than that, because I will certainly be using this scenario again to see what a different group of players do with it. A slightly stripped down version of the Hot War rules served this game perfectly and this time there were no NPCs for me to portray at all; well, not live ones, anyway...

Pookie, shortly before the sheer weight of prizes collapses in on itself,
creating a miniature black hole; don't worry, we have 5 years...
Simon, Pookie and I have already begun talking about Spaghetti ConJunction 2b (or not 2b) but long before then, Concrete Cow '18a looms on the horizon on March 17th. I think I will probably be there: I am a long way from being over my grieving period though, so if you do see me sitting somewhere quietly reading, it may because I need the break from people for a moment. That said... wow, I really enjoyed my games at Spaghetti ConJunction! I was somewhat afraid that I'd lost my touch and the games would fall flat, but other than a few ideas for scenes and plot points I could use next time, both games went swimmingly and most of all, I had fun. Now I need more gaming... Hangouts anyone? Discord? Very long conference calls? Tic Tac Toe by post...? Bunnies & Burrows via public graffitti...? [Fades out]

All Photos courtesy of Pookie

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Say Something Nice

Another short game created in the space of one morning, inspired by a friend's recent experience with booking a restaurant and by the trend for some businesses to complain about their negative reviews.

In the near future, a conglomeration of businesses have made it virtually illegal to post a negative review about any commercial service: in this game, for 2 or 3 players, you’ll have to create a glowingly positive review for a business that has provided shockingly bad service.

Image result for dirty restaurant tableFirst up, choose who will be the Customer and who will be the Business: in a 3 player game, you also have a Commenter, who will provide their own spin on what the Customer & Business say.

The Customer starts by describing their visit to the Business, effectively outlining what sort of service they received; as the Customer, you might start by saying “On Tuesday, I went to La Belle Noire for lunch,” thus establishing that the Business in question is a restaurant or café that provides lunch and which has a slightly pretentious name.

From there, the Business starts to describe the actual experience the customer had and the Customer responds by putting that experience in the best possible terms as part of their review. The Business should make the experience as plausibly awful as possible, though it should be comically awful, not merely depressingly awful, such as:
“The waiter sneezed on you as they took you to your table.”
“The menus were in a language you didn’t recognise and no-one could translate, so you had to guess.”
“Your soup was served in an eggcup.”
“The fire alarm went off, but the waiter just took the battery out and carried on.”

For each experience the Business states, the customer must spin that into the most positive version they can come up with, such as:
“The waiter was very approachable, almost intimate.”
“There were a lot of exciting surprises on the menu and we didn’t know what to expect!”
“The delicate starter really whetted our appetites for the main course!”
“The wait staff went out of their way to cultivate a calming & relaxed atmosphere.”

If you have a Commenter, they may ask a question to modify or seek more information about what the Business or Customer says about any experience, but only once per experience, i.e. they may not ask both the Business and the Customer about the same experience. The Commenter’s questions should be about their own version of that experience when they made use of the Business, such as:
“Business: is that the waiter who had the nose bleed when I was there?”
“Customer: did you order the Cabbage Bread & Boiled Rump?”
“Business: do you still serve the soup with a knife?”
“Customer: did you sit at the table in front of the fire exit?”

No matter what the Commenter asks, the answer must always begin either “Yes, and…” or “No, but…”; the answer must always build on and relate to the question, but the Business should take this as their cue to make the experience worse, whilst the Customer is challenged to make it sound better.

When the Business describes the last experience of the Customer and everyone has responded to it, the game is over; the last experience will usually be paying the bill or leaving the premises (possibly to seek medical attention.)

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

We Only Want What's Best For You

I ventured out into role-playing again last night for the first time in months; among other things, we found time for a game of The Vicar is Coming for Tea, which made me think about Game Poems once again, so here's a new one I've had a go at this morning.

This short game takes place in a Multi-Agency Meeting, where those present will decide what’s best for a troubled young person with a challenging life. Imagine the kind of issues that might lead to a meeting like this, but don’t specify them: given the subject matter that is likely to come up, be prepared to tackle sensitive issues.
Image result for multi agency meeting 
Each player takes it in turn to state their role and their proposal for the young person in question: roles that may be present at the meeting are Teacher, Social Worker, Youth Offending Team Worker, Grandparent/Aunt/Uncle, Health Worker and Police Officer. Everyone present knows the young person and has had contact with them.

Once everyone has introduced themselves and outlined their proposal, prepare a set of paper tokens equal to the number of players: draw a smiley face on half of them and a frown on the other half. Place them in the centre of the table, within easy reach or all players, but move them about so that no-one knows which tokens are which.

Now you debate which proposal to accept for the young person’s future: everyone present will still interact with the young person in some capacity, no matter which proposal is accepted. During this debate, you may share something you know about the young person, adding a fact about them to the discussion: this might be as general as their age, gender or culture, but it may also be something specific to them or their history. You may use these details to add weight to a proposal or to argue against it, but when you add a detail, you must take a token from those remaining on the table. Look at it, then place it face down in front of you; you may only have one token, so you only get one chance to add a detail during the game.

Once the last token is taken, the game ends and all the players must reach a majority consensus on which proposal to implement: once this is decided, the player whose proposal is accepted flips their token over and reveals it. If a smiley face is revealed, they end the game by narrating how the course of action taken improves the young person’s life; if a frown is revealed, they end the game with a coda about the young person’s descent into a lifetime of trouble as a result of this.

Note #1: Tactically, once you know whether your proposal will have a good or bad outcome, it’s up to you how strongly you argue for or against it; this is just a game, so feel free to advocate for the type of ending to the story that you would like to see. You can’t withdraw your proposal, but you can throw your weight behind someone else’s.

Note #2: Multi-Agency Meetings are a familiar tool to anyone who has worked closely with young people in the UK, with the idea being to look at all aspects of the subject’s life and come up with a plan that benefits them the most. This game represents a vastly oversimplified version of the process.