Thursday, August 11, 2016

Gen Con 2016 - J'ACCUSE!

Gen Con has come and gone again, and it was a great event. If you look into what I've written in the past (there isn't a lot and it's stretched out over time so you could do your research) and you'll see that I have not always thought so. The fact that it gets better and better every year is a testament to the hard work and dedication of a large number of people who work within Gen Con.

That said, what did I do this Gen Con?

Wednesday
We arrived early enough that I was able to hang out with my Smirk and Dagger crew for a while but it came time to hit some events. First thing I ended up going to the IGDN social and running into a huge number of the IGDN folks there. It came a point in time where I still had all my stuff with me and it was getting crowded at Laughmillers so I left about 30 minutes earlier than I intended, then I ran into Matt and Michelle who dragged me back to the social. Which was great, and we sat down and also ran into Rachel Kahn and made introductions all around.

Then it was time for Trade Day, where it started to bode well that J'accuse was going to be just fine. Everyone we talked to loved the game when they left, and even people came forward to ask what it was about without us having to prompt them.

Thursday
This was day one, and I spent all of the day at the IGDN room over at the Marriot. I thought I was only running one game turns out I was running two games that day the first one was Chill and the second one was Critical!: Go Westerly.

Chill - Cold Dark Earth
The game went well. This is about the fifth time I've run this adventure so I've gotten it down pretty well. They players were spooked, not in a terror kind of way but one player was very much "I'm getting what feels like conflicting information, but I know there's got to be some common thread here. I love this!" It really shows how awesome Chill is as a game because you can totally evoke that feeling with the supernatural elements of the Unknown. They tried to take on the big bad, and I didn't even use all of its power and it manage to almost kill someone, mainly because they botched their roll and I colossal successed my roll and so with one punch I sent him across two lanes of highway. 

There was one issue that did come up, the players couldn't figure out how to defeat the creature. I did hint at several times what might be the answer, and they thought they had tried everything but the weapon right in front of them. This is a problem with any investigation game. You can give people all the clues that you want, but in the end sometimes they aren't going to get it. That's fine, in Chill because the mystery is usually how do you beat this thing, and if they don't get it they lose and/or get killed so it isn't as if it stops the play as much.

Critical!: Go Westerly - Just a Few Ingredients
This one is a fun little adventure that Geoff made from a one hour session that he devised for Fan Expo one year. I think it needs one more thing to make it a full 4 hour session, but sometimes with a comedy game you don't want to go a full four hours because being funny for four hours is hard.

There were some great moments in the game, the biggest was Matt who was playing Urist, ended up defacing a peat guild member's lawn by writing "WANKERS" in peat and setting it on fire. The thugs stopped and asked him if it was his battle cry, and once that was cleared up they started fighting again.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday
The rest of the con was spent being at the booth, and running events for Smirk and Dagger. They kind of blurr so I'll give people some highlights.

1. J'accuse sold out. We came in with 200 copies and we sold out on Saturday around 3:30-4:00pm. We could have easily sold another 50 copies of the game. There was some great word of mouth happening about the game and it showed with steady sales increases over the convention.

2. The Run For Your LIfe Candyman Game. Oh goodness how this child has grown. I realized how long we've been doing this game when after getting everyone into the kind of rituals we have around the game I had to sit down. I did it with a sigh of "this was easier when I was 25" and then I realized I had been doing it when I was 25 and that we had been doing this for 10 YEARS! We've had kids grow up playing this with us every Saturday and families and familiar faces and it's been amazing.

3. Playing with the Shut Up and Sit Down Folks. While we were in the middle of the Candyman game they walked over and asked if we had any games to play. We got to play a game of J'accuse where I ended up losing, in the most wonderful way. I thought I was safe, but I had mis-timed when I wanted to get hit with the motive in front of me and so everyone had all their cards in hand when it came time to nail me with the motive that would end the game. I had opened my copy, because we had sold out at that time, and when they left they wanted to know if they could have some review copies so I gave them that one because I can always get another personal copy.

We also played Dead Last, which was hilarious because we're all a wonderfully backstabby bunch and I ended up winning that game through a double cross at the end and a grab one and go which netted me enough to win the game. It was a very good time, and there were lots of laughs had by everyone.

With every Gen Con it was awesome to see everyone. I would name names but that would be a huge list that would require me at least an hour to type out everyone's name. You amazing people know who you are, and it's always great to see you.

Onwards and upwards to Fan Expo!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Veronica Monsterhearts - Hardboiled Inequality

I've been working on Veronica Monsterhearts for over a year and I haven't had a lot of opportunities to play it. I've had one or two play tests myself, and then Cheyenne ran at Gen Con last year so it's been a lot of theoretical kind of stuff rather than hard physical testing.

That said, something came up with Cheyenne's play test that I feel I really should talk about. An important part of the first session is the Welcome To Blank part of the game, where you build the city that you're going to be playing in. This sections was created because when we did our first play test, one thing that came up was that there was little to care about where the action was taking place. In a noir story, the location is just as much of a character as the players. In Veronica Mars the city of Neptune shapes the narrative in a lot of important ways and so I think it became important that there were some questions that were answered ahead of time. 

The questions that you ask in Welcome to Blank revolve around the city, and why there are large sections of inequality. It also focuses on the corruption of the police and local officials. Both of these are important for a Noir story because they end up creating the circumstances that create the need to go outside what's the "socially acceptable" method of handling problems, which is through the police or the authorities.

Corrupt officials are a standard part of the noir genre. It feels currently prescient with the current focus on police misconduct and the "blue wall" where organizations exist to protect officers regardless of what actions they might have done. It's currently nothing new, when you read Chandler that's one of the reasons why Marlowe decided to be a PI rather than stay a police officer in the 20s. Marlowe felt that the corruption was too much, and he's rather be a PI barely making it through than stand with the police. Through Chandler's novels the police are shown time and time again to be easily bribed, interested only in their immediately benefit, with the few exceptions frequently meeting bad ends. It isn't just the police, but really any authority figure. They have their own agendas, and desire, none of which are part of the public good. This attitude, and these actions, are what makes the detective, or to generalize it further the outlier, necessary. They become the foil against the police, doing what is necessary to bring a sense of justice to their clients that the authorities refuse to do.

This refusal stems from the authority's understanding of inequality. All those in power want to be on the side of the haves rather than the have nots, and will curry favour with those with greater power and influence than themselves. Which brings us to the point that noir stories have a kind of Aristotelian quality to them. They are frequently about people with wealth and power laid low by their own hubris. However, instead of fate or circumstance causing their fall from grace it is the outlier who provides the push that causes the fall.

The outlier's existence is just as that force for retribution. It can be violent like Continental Op in Red Harvest, enduring like Marlowe, subtle like Sam Spade, or the outcast like Veronica in Veronica Mars. It's the inequality in the society that forces people to look to them for justice. That's in part why I was interested in doing a Veronica Mars inspired game. There are many levels of inequality in a high school. There's the same societal inequality reflected in the school, where those with money have a higher social standing than those without. There's also a power imbalance between the students and the teachers, where if there is little recourse and few options for the students who need help from the teachers. That inequality is essential to a kind of hard boiled, noir story that I'm hoping Veronica Monsterhearts can give to people.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Idea Corner - buildyourown World game

In one of those Hey what about this" ideas you get when you're working on something else. The kind of idea you might want to chat about but don't actually have the time to put any effort towards. This is one of those ideas.

It's kind of like a Tabula Rasa World game. You come in, and there's some kind of way to determine what you're going to play. Something to setup the genre, your expectations and what you don't want to see in the game. Then there's going to be some way to define your character, a way describe who they are and what kind of archetype they have. There will probably be some stats too, I think with everything else being so player driven it would be nice to have them done up front so that there is a little less work for the players and the GM, but again it could be nice to have it flexible to be called what you want.

Then you play the game. When it comes time to have someone influence the fiction you come up with the move on the spot. Define it, define the results, and then keep it. If it's a rule you go back to again and again, then it can become a basic move that everyone gets access to. There would also be a way to set it up so that people who go back to using that same move again and again could make it their own move, in their blank playbook.

We could call it *World.

Anyway, it's just a thought.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Veronica Monsterhearts - Back to Work On It

Now that there has been some distance between me and this game, I think I'm going to take a break from Rent's Due and work a little bit more on Veronica Monsterhearts.

What I'm aiming for in v0.3

1. Better wording. I'm going to be looking at all the text and not just the moves and all that.
2. Better move decisions. I do want to look at the moves again, because one of the things that came up during the game that people had some issues with what to do for 7-9, so I've got to clean that up.
3. Keeping the Questions for the City Creation and making that the first session, and making up a first session section.
4. Making some moves that can be used if there's a problem in making a decision.

Or maybe even have that be a 7-9 thing. If you've done messed up, choose one of the moves and roll it. On my second thought it seems a little clunky and fractal (when in doubt refer to a move, which refers to another move, which refers to another move) but it is something to think about.

I think the basic moves are good. I think the handling of the mystery is good. I think I just need to clarify some things.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Chill Talk - Tokens

I know that this isn't going to be scheduled, it's going to be a "when I get around to writing them" but I do still want to talk about why I think Chill is a great horror game, and a great game to run period. There's something that a couple of people I've seen online pooh-pooh, and that is the use of Chill Tokens. The few whining conversations were all about the meta game, like this was some kind of bad thing, like it would remove the players from the game. The reality is that it's a great tool to use to increase the horror for the players.

One of the ways that it helps with the horror is that it provides the players with a visual clue to how things are going. If there are a lot of light tokens, then they're going to take a few more risks since they have the safety net underneath them. They'll feel that they need a particular interest clue, or that they don't want to deal with the repercussions of a low success and a token turn will make all the difference between being okay, and being awesome, or even being okay, and failing.

If you do have players who feel the need to try to keep all the tokens to the light at every single point in time, which does require a fair bit of luck because a botch will cause a token to turn dark. Even then, there are ways within the rules that will get the CM some dark tokens. When the big bad notices the players for the first time in a mission, the CM can add a dark token to the pile. This is when they get noticed, not when the players notice the big bad. If they do something noteworthy, something that gets in the way then drop that token down and watch their eyes widen.

Failing that, have the creatures of the Unknown do nasty horrible things to the players. Even without all the powers of the Evil Way, the vast majority of the time the creatures will easily walk away from a face to face fight. They won't even need to bother to flip tokens to do horrible things. The claws, fangs, and other natural abilities that they have are more than enough to take down a few SAVE envoys and put them near death's door. There's always the possibility that they can flip all the light tokens dark in order to save someone, which is delightful if they've been hoarding them and avoiding spending them for any reason. That's not to setup a CM vs player kind of dynamic, but if the players are "trying to metagame" then they're worried more about the tokens than the creatures in front of them, and this is a way to refocus them.

The how you use the tokens is important as well. When using the tokens, you want to make sure that you're flipping the tokens first. That way the players get the sense of dread first, the idea that something bad is going to happen. There's a sense of horrible anticipation, because Evil Way abilities that require you to turn one, or even worse two, tokens are things that will make your players worry about what's going to happen.

Even if you use the tokens in the interesting ways that they can be used. Splitting up the group, or knocking out pieces of technology that they've become dependent on, or allowing the creature to act in unusual ways. This is the one where you flip the token, and let the players see what you're doing. Tell them that you're flipping the token, draw attention to it, and then wait. You shouldn't make them wait too long, but allow the players rooms to do a few things every time wondering what action is going to trigger what the token was for. It's a great way to ratchet up the tension.

Using the tokens in the wide variety of ways that you can the Chill Tokens allows you to get the most horror out of this fun little mechanic. It's one of the many ways that Chill allows the CM to create an excellent horror experience. Use this tool when playing Chill well, and your players will love you for it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fan Expo 2015 - Panel Schedule

Wow, so Fan Expo this year is all full of panels which I really appreciate. I like con games, but sometimes in Toronto it feels like it's the same people playing the games at Fan Expo. I'll still be around, but not officially running any games. I will have games there though, in case anyone wants to see what's new and what's coming down the pipe.

Panel: Humour in Swords & Sorcery
Time: Friday, 4:45 PM
Location: 705
Description: Can mighty thews and sinister sorcerors be funny?  By
Crom, they certainly can!
Fellow Panelists: Jonathan Lavallee, Jim Zub, Jason Anarchy, Rachel Kahn.

I AM SO LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS AND IT'S THE FIRST PANEL! Seriously you need to check out who is there. We've got a lot of people who have put time effort and energy into thinking about comedy and fantasy. Seriously, By Crom! is one of the best things I have ever read. Even checking out the panels on the site made me laugh and tear up at the same time.

Panel: Publishing your own tabletop game
Time: Friday, 5:45 PM
Location: 705
Description: Do you have a concept for publishing a game? How to get
your game into the hands of customers from prototyping to playtesting
to publishing and distribution.
Panelists: Phil Reed, Jonathan Lavallee, Jason Anarchy

This is one of those standard ones that we do every year. It's a good one to go if you're looking to ask questions about making a tabletop game. We do have all sorts of experience here for analog games, and a little bit on the video side but that's why it's called tabletop games in the panel title.. ^_^

Panel: Pathos and probability curves: Writing tabletop Games
Time: Saturday, 1:15 PM
Location: 703
Description: Do you want to create your own adventure games? Do you
want to help expand existing worlds and ways with your own unique
touches? These panelists will help you learn the secrets of great
game design
Panelists: Jonathan Lavallee, Malcolm Sheppard, Ed Greenwood, Andrew Valkauskas

This is another standard we do every year, it's a fun panel where we get to talk about the weird way we make stuff.

Panel: Getting Started with Tabletop Roleplaying Games
Time: Sunday, 12:15 PM
Location: 703
Description: Wait, do we all need to buy a player's guide? Do I need
miniatures? What's the deal with these dice?  You've wanted to try
tabletop RPGs but don't know where to start! Our panel of experts will
give you the guidance you need.
Panelists: Robin Laws, Jonathan Lavallee, Andrew Hackard, Sara McMillen

Sunday is the day where I don't shut up on panels, as opposed to the days where I just don't shut up in general. This is a good kind of intro panel, how do I deal with all this stuff going on with RPGs? I hope we get a chance to talk about the awesome stuff and the pitfalls that come with the social aspect of the hobby, because that's what it is.

Panel: Step Right Up: Promoting your game
Time: Sunday, 1:45 PM
Location: 705
Description: Making games is fun, but a huge part of games is selling
them to other people. From game publishers to the general public how
do you get people interested in the fun times that you've created.
We'll discuss things from elevator pitches, to demos, to various tools
that you can use to help make sure you generate excitement for your
game.
Fellow Panelists: Jonathan Lavallee, Jason Anarchy

This one was one of the panels that I requested. We haven't had a "business" panel at Fan Expo yet and after some conversations with some people at some local events I think having a discussion about sales and demo work. Making people excited about your product is just as important as being able to make the product itself. Anyway, it's just Jason and me so it should have plenty of opportunities for people to bring up their questions.

Panel: State of the Game Industry
Time: Sunday, 3:45 PM
Location: 705
Description: Another year has passed, and the industry remains. What
new releases wowed the market? Are stores & distributors still
relevant in the age of Print on Demand and PDF sales?
Panelists: Robin Laws, Jonathan Lavallee, Phil Reed, Kate Bullock

This is the panel we have at the end of the con every year. I'll give the same spoiler alert. It's both going really well, and at the same time still has plenty of places that it needs to improve in order to grow and be even better than it is.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Chill Talk - Weapons

This may seem to be a weird place to start, considering I'm a person who hates weapon lists because I find them immensely boring like only a block of stats can be. However, this is a great place to start with a discussion about why  but trust me this is one of the things I love the most about this game.

If you've read the book, you may have gone over to look for a list of weapons to see what they might do. You might have done this as a player looking for weapons, or as a GM trying to remember what kind of damage each weapon does. You're not going to find it, the closest you're going to find for that is on page 223 and 224 of the Chill 3rd edition book. It won't give you "this weapon does this and this weapon does that" but what it's going to give you is a base default for what weapons do. You punch someone it's going to start at superficial, melee starts at minor, ballistic weapons start at serious and it kind of works its way up from there.

This is something beautiful with the game, because weapons are still incredibly effective. A colossal success with a gun can be a lethal shot killing someone instantly. But what's great is that you aren't bogged down with having to look up the precise stats of what everything does. Instead, what the game says you should do is apply what situational modifiers you think are appropriate. Someone goes for a chop to the throat, they make their roll maybe start their damage at serious and then apply any benefits from the roll. A monster on the ground, and thrashing about in a trap while an envoy has a pistol at point blank range. Good planning, that's stats at Critical. That pistol shooting through a door, well the damage might start at minor rather than serious, but if it's got special ammo maybe not.

Instead of dealing with a hard mechanical solution to a problem, that's the text that ends up being like 1343987aoshj;l09739 pages in a book where the writers try to come up with how the rules will apply to this situation. It's also one of those spots in games where you get a lot of people going, "Well this doesn't make sense" or where you get the arguments from rules lawyers going "well according to this page, because I'm behind wood it counts as halving the damage so I only take X from the bazooka." These kinds of things happen because there isn't any way to predict every situation.

With Chill we've removed all that kind of worry. If your players have planned well and their trap has gone off, rewards them by making their attacks automatically better. If your players have though things out poorly, then they're going to be in for a long night, or put themselves at a greater disadvantage. You can do all of this as the CM on the fly, because you can understand that this situation would create a specific type of advantage (either by increasing the TN, having it deal more damage or ... just working) or disadvantage without the rules telling you exactly what that kind of explicit advantage it its.

That's not to say that the game doesn't have general penalties for doing actions. Targeted Strike/Shot does have a listed -40 to the TN penalty on page 191, or that we don't have our own Counterattack modifiers (pg. 192) but this is the minority. What the game is really trying to tell you is have fun, make the game scary for your players and while we give you the framework for that, you are good enough to look at the situation and apply your own modifiers for the best effect because it's great, and faster that way. Which leaves you more brain power to think about how you can terrify your players.

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