Thursday, March 15, 2012

Some gaming definitions (and why they matter)

Cobbling some thoughts together in a hopefully understandable post about gaming and how we define ourselves as role players. I know this isn't going to matter much, but I'm still going to say this right up front I know that people fit in more than one category and that you can't define everything. Don't tell me "But I'm different!"

Why worry about defining something at all? Why not just go out and have fun and leave the arguing to those idiots over there?

--If you know what something is or isn't it helps you to find the things you like more of. It's like genre in music, books, movies, etc. Yeah very little actually stays all the way in one genre, but if you know you don't like romantic comedies it will keep you from going to see The War. Likewise if you dislike war movies you won't be going to go see Act of Valor because you know that it will be a waste of time and money.

--of course if you get enough recommendations saying "This movie isn't your typical ________" you might go and see it and find yourself liking it. 

--labels are handy to use as shorthand. Instead of saying "there's a group of gamers out there who like early editions of D&D, but also like innovation and DIY stuff" you can simply say "OSR". Instead of "there's a group of gamers who like to decide what the story might be before play, rather than let it emerge during play", you can say Story Gamer. 

--knowing that we're talking about the same things before we start helps limit misunderstandings and helps us come to a clearer understanding of a different position than ours. When I say truck, and you think something like a small Toyota, and I'm picturing a four-door Chevy with dualies, we're not going to be able to talk about things because of our differing definitions.

--talking about games is fun for many of us. Playing them is also fun. I'd rather play them than talk about them, but since I can't always play them, talking about them keeps me engaged.

So what are some common terms and definitions?
OSR--Old School Renaissance is how I generally hear it defined. That subset of gamers who have a DIY ethic and are actively looking at the old games (mostly early D&D and it's clones) and re-imagining them with new gaming techniques.

Story Games--games where the rules of the game allow the players (not the characters) to determine the way the world reacts in some significant way

Story Now--Story that gets developed during play. 

Story Before--Story that's determined before the play starts. 

Sandbox--A style of play where the players simply go out and explore the world around them. There may be rumors and plot hooks to interest them, but there's no over-all plot. In my view this can be both a physical sandbox, or a relationship driven sandbox, or an emotional one. 

Character driven--this is a game that focuses on developing the characters via achieving goals or whatever.

story driven--this is game play style focused more on the stuff happening out there in the world. Of course that's not to say that you don't have character development in story driven games, nor does it mean that character driven games don't have plenty of loot. 

In movie terms this might be something like Red Dawn vs Dead Poets Society. Was there character development in Red Dawn? Sure. Was it the focus? No, killing Russians and Cubans was. 

gamist--you're into it for the challenge. For overcoming obstacles and challenges. for you combat is a chance to win.

simulationist--it's important to have a realistic game within the confines of the genre/setting. If you're playing a fantasy rpg you don't want your character to be able to take 20 foot steps without magical powers. For you the important thing about combat is that it model real life. 

narrativist--for you it's about exploring character motivation and action. combat is important because of what you might learn about your character's motivations and reactions to the stress of war.

--GNS theory often depicts these as mutually exclusive. I disagree, but that's something for another day.

rules light--Generally describes games which have only a handful of rules. "

crunch--refers to the amount of rules in a system. generally speaking it's almost always used to describe a rules heavy system. 

fluff--This is all the stuff that gets put into a game to make the setting come to life. There can be lots of fluff in a rules light system, or none at all. Likewise with a crunchy system.    

Different axes
I don't think that Gamist is mutually exclusive of Narrative or Simulationist. It seems to me that Gamist is a way of describing *why* you resolve conflict (whatever that might be), not a way of describing *how* you get there. In my view the best way to describe a Gamer axis might be like this:

You can be a Simulationist who doesn't like very many rules, or a Narrativist, who likes lots of rules. I also think that sandbox vs story game is a completely different type of axis. I do think you can have sandboxy Story Games.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Toypocalypse Review/Actual Play report

Last night I played a game of _Toypocalypse_ over G+ Hangouts. This is a review and a bit of an actual play report. Toypocalypse was written by Trevor Christenssen for the 24 hour rpg contest.

Here are the basics:

Toypocalypse is set in a world that's been abandoned by humans. Nuclear bomb, global warming, fireballs from hell, it doesn't really matter. There are no humans around at all and haven't been for decades at least (maybe hundreds of years). All over the world oppressive regimes have sprung up, run by sentient toys. Toy warlords have sprung up to hoard necessary supplies such as batteries and thread. You play a sentient toy in this society who is trying to find something better.

Toypocalypse uses a step system for conflict resolution, that I think is kind of innovative. The basic die roll is a d12. Incredibly difficult is a target number of 11, hard is 7, easy is 4. Your weakest attribute is a d12 with no modifiers. This allows for a chance of fumbles, as well as a greater swing in results. Each step that your attribute increases by you decrease your die type but you get extra modifiers. For example if you had a trait at a level of "Good" it would be a d10+2. Great would be d8+4, while Superior would be d6+6. This increases the chances of a successful roll, while decreasing the amount of variation in the results.

Character Creation
Character creation involves a handful of choices about your character. What's your characters condition? (Tattered, Pieces Missing, Batteries Not Included, etc.). How does your character move? (Hop, Roll, Tracks, etc.). What's your role on the team? (Leader, Schemer, Protector, etc.?). What power does your character have?

It's a simple process, and it only took us as long as it did because it was the first time for all of us. The conflict resolution was really quick to learn--our group had someone who had never done a game via Hangout before and who was only playing her 3rd rpg and she managed it pretty easily. I liked the character creation process, and the setting is pretty damn cool.

I really liked the layout. It was clean and uncluttered. The font type used was easy to read. Best of all the fiction that was used was kept short and was pertinent to each section.

Overall I was very impressed with the game, especially for being created in 24 hours. The one real criticism I have is of the way initiative works. I suspect that might be more a result of my unfamiliarity with the concept of declaring actions, then rolling for initiative, and a few more sessions might improve my understanding and familiarity with the system.

Rating would be an easy 4 out of 5 stars.

Actual Play

There were three players at this session. Myself, Jenna Parnell, and Adam Minnie. My character was a disease-ridden stress ball. Character's name is Bubo, short for Bubonic (as in the plague). Special power is an energy blast which takes the form of an acid spray.

Jenn's character was a harmless bunny that had been transformed by her owner's older sister into a killer bunny from hell, with real teeth. Character name is Bunneh. Special power is super speed.

Adam's character was a Popple by the name of Putter. Special power is elasticity, which allows him to use his pocket like a sling shot or a whip or any number of things (at one point he used it like a bolo to trip some opponents).

The Job:
Find a missing dinosaur named Bic, a triceratops with a broken horn. Biceratops eventually got shortened to plain Bic. Employed at the Cotton Depository, a bank where stuffed toys can store extra cotton. His friend hired the party to find him, because he'd been missing for some time now.

After searching Bic's house the party found a note. Following the clues they talked to a pirate captain named Scarbelly, who wasn't able to tell them much, other than that Bic was a passenger for a bit and spouted "crazy talk" the whole time.

Frustrated the party headed back to the Depository to interview Bic's co-workers. Most of them were too busy to talk, and those that did were not able to say anything useful. Eventually the manager came down. He didn't have much more to say either, though he did say that Bic was re-hired after the first absence, against his desires. That was definitely odd.

The party decided to head back to Bic's house to see if there was anything they had missed. Along the way they were ambushed. After fighting them off, they managed to capture HeMan. Bubo proposed a plan "You go to the person who hired you, acting like you succeeded in your mission. We'll follow you so we can know who did it. You can keep 25% of the pay and we'l let you live". HeMan had some guts and came back with a 50/50 split, they settled on a 60/40 split (40 to HeMan).

At the house the party saw HeMan go in, then come flying out as the owner tackled him. A fight ensued in the street, with Bubo joining in. Putter and Bunneh entered the house while the owner was destracted. Eventually the owner was subdued and HeMan ripped out the batteries as his payment.

In the house the party found a door, that led to a tunnel. Climbing into the tunnel (Bubo was in Putter's elastic pocket), they traveled down the passage until they heard some chanting (never a good sign). There they saw the bank manager and his two minions. Poor Bic was tied down to an altar and it appeared as if he was about to be sacrificed. The party didn't hesitate but charged the cultists and a ferocious fight broke out.

Cool stuff happened. Putter shot Bubo out of his pouch like a slingshot. Sadly Bubo's dice failed him on damage. Bunneh used her super speed to launch two attacks, hitting one minion with her feet and bouncing off him to hit the other. By the end of the fight Bubo was almost dead (down to 1 Pneuma--0 Pneuma means dead), but on his final attack he managed to connect with the manager and use his acid blast to melt him into a puddle of plastic.

The Characters

Captain Scarbelly's Guards

Captain Scarbelly's First Mate

Captain Scarbelly

The Depository Manager

The Ambushers

The minions (two of them)

The bank manager reveals his true self

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Where the Streets Have No Name: Using Song Lyrics as Gaming Inspiration

I'm a big believer in that inspiration for your game can come from anywhere and anything. Some time ago Boing Boing posted a link to this map, where all the streets were the names of famous (and not so famous) place name songs. Examples include 56th Street Bride Song, Highway 61 Revisited, Highway to Hell, etc. As I was looking at the map, inspiration struck. What if you based plot and adventure hooks for an urban based campaign from the lyrics of the songs? Alternatively, what if you came up with fairy tale names for the streets and then based plots on those, but without telling the players the names of the streets?

This is a map of part of London. Highway 61 Revisited is actually Hackney Road and 'A' Bomb on Wardour Street Old Street.

Highway 61 Revisited
Oh, God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man you must be puttin' me on"
God says, "No", Abe say "What?"
God say "You can do what you want Abe but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"

Well Abe said, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God say, "Out on Highway 61"

Well Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare department they wouldn't give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard, "Where can I go?"
Howard said, "There's only one place I know"
Sam said, "Tell me quick man and I got to run"

Old howard just pointed with his gun
And said, "That way down Highway 61"

Well Mack the finger said to Louie the King
"I got forty red white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don't ring
Do you know where I can get rid of these things?"
And Louie the King said, "Let me think for a minute son"

And he said, "Yes I think it can be easily done
Just take everything down to Highway 61"

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night
Told the first father that things weren't right
My complexion she says is much too white
He said, "Come here and step into the light"
He says, "Hmm you're right
Let me tell the second mother this has been done"

But the second mother was with the seventh son
And they were both out on Highway 61

Now the Rovin' gambler he was very bored
He was tryin' to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said, "I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done"

We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61

There are some great NPC possibilities there. The Rovin' Gambler who has a game set up on a different corner every day, or the shopkeeper with a thousand telephones who is able to communicate with anyone, anywhere. 

What about plots? The PCs are approached by a man who is part of a secret organization. The head of this organization wants the man to give over his son to be raised up in the organization/trained/sent on a suicide mission/etc. The man doesn't want to sacrifice his son, so asks the PCs to step in and stop the thing from happening. 

Let's do another one for fun.

'A' Bomb in Wardour Street
Where the streets are paved with blood,
with cataclysmic overtones,
Fear and hate linger in the air,
A strictly no-go deadly zone.
I don't know what I'm doing here
'cause it's not my scene at all
There's an 'A' bomb in Wardour Street
They've called in the Army, they've called in the police to.

I'm stranded on the vortex floor,
My head's been kicked in and blood's started to pour
Through the haze I can see my girl
15 geezers got her pinned to the door
I try to reach her but fall back to the floor
'A' bomb in Wardour Street
It's blown up the West End, now it's spreading throughout the City,

'A' bomb in Wardour Street, it's blown up the City
Now it's spreading through the country.

Law and order take a turn for the worst,
In the shape of a size 10 boot.
Rape and murder throughout the land,
and they tell you that you're still a free man.
If this is freedom I don't understand
'cause it seems like madness to me.
'A' bomb in Wardour Street, Hate Bomb,
Hate Bomb, Hate Bomb, Hate Bomb.

A Phillistine nation, of degredation,
And hate and war. There must be more
It's Doctor Martin's A,P,O,C,A,L,Y,P,S,E,

All sorts of plot options here. Maybe the PCs learn about something that's going to blow up and cause mass destruction and mayhem. They have to beat the clock to get the "bomb" defused. (I put quotation marks around the word bomb because this could really be anything at all.) Maybe a bomb was found, and someone the PCs know is blamed for it, but the person in jail is innocent and the PCs need to prove that before the real bomb goes off. 

If you want to listen to the songs the staff at Boing Boing has put together a Spotify play list for your listening pleasure.