Thursday, June 23, 2016

Recent Games: Garage Bands, Hengeyokai, and Werewolf Receptionists

Just  a single post this week; next week I’ll have the next in my History of RPG Genres. In the last month or so I’ve played a mess of games, with many more one-shots than usual. Here are my impressions, including some notes on my Origins events. 

I’ve played several sessions of Rich Rogers’ "Gauntlet City Limits," a series of small press rpg sessions linked by a shared setting. Those included InSpectres, Ninja Burger, High Strung, and 1%er - The Outlaw Biker Game. I enjoyed the first two. They have absurdity without full gonzo; you maintain a role even as things get goofy. High Strung’s more serious, an rpg of local bands trying to make it big. I liked the premise, but we got tangled in the rules. When it clicked, I had a great time. I think High Strung’s a dynamite game. The mechanics aren’t exactly my bag, but it won’t be hard to adapt. It’s unique and deeper than you might imagine. If you’re at all interested in the idea of a band-based rpg, consider picking it up.

Tuesday night we did the second session of 1%er - The Outlaw Biker Game. I’m not a Sons of Anarchy fan and I wasn’t sure what it would be like. The mechanics are expletive driven. It’s a rude rule book. But unlike Human Occupied Landfill or similar games, that actually serves a purpose. Somehow it avoids being juvenile and doesn’t outstay its welcome. I enjoyed 1%er more than I would have expected. It does go brutal and nasty. I wouldn’t want to play it too often and I’d be super careful who I played with.

I also played Dungeon World and Ghost Lines, both of which I’d tried before and enjoyed. We’re getting to the end of Crowsmantle, but I don’t want to write about that until we finish it up.

I played in three sessions via Games on Demand
Urban Shadows: I backed the Kickstarter for this, but avoided reading it until the hard copy arrived. I loved what I saw and dug Mark Diaz Truman’s discussion of it on the +1 Forward podcast. Still I couldn’t quite grasp the game’s shape. Mark made a compelling case for the PvP aspects of it. But that’s pretty antithetical to my usual games. Playing in a one-shot gave me perspective. I saw how those tensions could work. We didn’t manage to fully engage with some of the mechanics, like Debts, but it worked. I can see how it would evolve and emerge over time.

Later Sherri and I talked more seriously about how we’d use Urban Shadows to do a Changeling the Lost campaign. We still love that setting. US isn’t really a World of Darkness-esque game. WoD tends to be internally driven, looking at the tensions within a particular community (even when you’re running cross-monster games). Urban Shadows has multiple factions working and vying for power, more like Dresden Files. I think it could work for CtL but would require some rethinking about how you define Seemings, Kiths, and Courts.

World Wide Wrestling: I’ve mentioned before my reversal on wrestling as a concept. I’m deep into Lucha Underground now. I enjoyed reading the WWW rules and had committed to running a session for friends. But I wasn’t entirely sure what play looked like. How much did the Creative work within matches? How did the control switch feel? What did commentary look like? Beyond being tremendous fun, this session answered all those questions. We had six players at the table and we probably could have handled a couple more. My character got eliminated from the tournament in the first round, but I didn’t care. I had a great time. You have play opportunities via off-screen moments, run-ins, and color commentary. Much fun. Playing this with a sharp GM allowed me to run a great session of WWW last night.

Side note: Both of these GMs, Marissa Kelly and Nathan Paoletta respectively, put out playbooks, had us do character creation, and then spun stories from that. I’m cool with improv and zero prep at home, but I’m not brave enough yet to approach a convention game cold. My fret-itude means I need a scenario ready. They did an awesome job.

Golden Sky Stories: Sunday morning we played this light, Miyazaki-esque game. You play Hengeyokai, animal people, living in a pastoral Japanese town. It avoids mechanics for violence, instead you focus on friendship and relations to give you the power to succeed. I had a great time and I think I want to run this locally now. We had a fifteen year old GM. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but it bears repeating: I wish I’d been as good as GM as her when I was 15. She had things together, brought energy to the table, did her table prep, and seemed completely at ease running for a group of adults. Kind of amazing.

Magic Inc: I did two sessions of this. Despite the same scenario they ended up radically different. When I run at cons, my first session’s often the weakest. My nervousness and uncertainty get the best of me. I felt that way about this, despite having two players I’d played with before. I’ll put part of the blame on me and part on a weirdness at the table itself. For Games on Demand you list down two games on your menu. The first player to choose your table sets which of the two you’ll play. The hosts then put a large red X over the other. We had our fourth player arrive a little after we’d started, clearly distracted. We got twenty+ minutes into character creation for this game about low-level wage slaves in a supernatural corporation. At that point the fourth player looked up and said, “I thought this was a game about ninjas.” We had to explain we’d chosen the other game.

We rolled on, but it put me a little off balance. Magic, Inc’s a comedy game. Three of the players bought into and listened to the others. I try to run comedic games as straight as I can- putting absurdity out there with a straight face. And, I don’t know exactly how to put this, our fourth player was a little tone deaf. He’d drop a joke and then when he got no reaction from it, he repeated it again and again to salvage it. We got through the session, but I pedaled furiously to make it go faster. I cut corners in my nervousness and I could have done a much better job.

For my second session on Saturday evening I determined to facilitate better. We had a great table of four players, one of whom had been among my local group years before. That session was awesome. I can usually keep a straight face when I run, but here I absolutely lost it. It has no real meaning out of context, but when I turned back to the department’s salesperson and said, “OK so you have twelve Mars Bars painted yellow,” it blew up. The table literally laughed hard enough we brought the neighboring games to a halt. The receptionist player had to get up and walk away from the table to recover. It took me several minutes before I caught my breath. A good session and one of my favorites of the convention.

Side Note: I need to clip down some of the character creation options. Each character deck has some strengths & weaknesses, but those aren’t immediately obvious. I should have done basic skill picks, with a couple of extra ranks for players to distribute. That would cut the time. Alternately or additionally I need to provide a ranking for each deck. If it’s a strong physical deck I should mention that and how the other three areas rate. I could also cut some choices, just by one or two for the “Stunts” and “Keys”. That would slightly reduce time and put more weight on their picks. This is mostly an issue for Magic Inc, as I’ve made the NSV choices pretty tight.

Neo Shinobi Vendetta: I dug this session immensely. John Alexander had play
ed in my NSV scenario last year and given me great feedback. Most of the changes I’d made came from that (moving to action faster, card-based damage). I also got to run for Yoshi Creel, a great gamer I played with in the WWW and Urban Shadows sessions. An awesome trio from Canada rounded things out. Everyone got into their role, they came up with sharp plans, and they played up their awesomeness. They gave me the high-octane cyber-ninja session I’d hoped for and everyone had at least one signature moment that stuck with me.

Overall I really enjoyed Origins, much more so because Sherri went with me this time. We had a great line up of GMs and I had the opportunity to talk with some people I only knew through G+. I also have to give a major shout-out to Evan Torner who oversaw the Games on Demand scheduling. After my Thursday session he came over and asked how things went. He talked me down and made me feel better about it. I then monopolized his time further, making him tell me about some of the awesome academic work he’s doing. He filled me in on many aspects of European Westerns, especially a connection German connections I had no idea about. It was great learning things in addition to playing games. 

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