Tuesday, September 29, 2015

History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 16: 2012)

A few weeks back, a commenter had a couple of problems with these lists. On the one hand, they disliked the format and appearance. That’s a fair cop. Blogger offers limitations to the presentation. I’m sure I could improve that with some study, but I’ve been lazy about that. For example, I haven’t changed the the site's background in a couple of years. So, I’d agree, but I haven’t figured out how long it would take me to figure out how to improve it. Of course, if the complaint’s more about style, that’s a harder question. I don’t have standard approach to the entries;  they swing between description, commentary, and review. But from experience, I know I have to do that to keep myself going.

On the other hand, the commenter also said the list had glaring omissions. I tried to follow up to see what those might be, but didn’t get a response. So I’ve gone back though these Post-Apocalyptic lists to hunt down what they might be addressing. I have one idea which I’ll put to you readers.

Is Cyberpunk post-apocalyptic?

In particular, let’s consider the big two games: Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun. When I first started these lists, I specifically left them out. My reasoning was that while they had "collapse events," those hadn’t been “apocalyptic.” The world transformed, but not destroyed. As well, IMHO key elements of post-apocalyptic games didn’t how up (Survival, Exploration, Rebuilding, Recovery). But since that first list, my definition has expanded. Hence we have plenty of "Dying Earth-Far Future" or "During the Fall" games. And Shadowrun has a pretty catastrophic series of events and dramatic changes. That makes me less confident in cyberpunk's lack of focus on Armageddon disqualifying it as post-apocalyptic. Perhaps my eventual desire to do a separate list of cyberpunk games clouds my judgement?

So I don’t know. What do you think?

To keep this list easy to read I’ve tightened the years covered. As we get closer to the present the lists expand and contract weirdly. I include mostly core books, but also significant setting material or sourcebooks. I consolidate “spin-off” and miscellaneous supplements into a single entry. For example at the end you'll see round-up entries with post-apocalyptic elements. Given the number of great things published I haven't included everything I want. I try to list revised editions which significantly change a line or present a milestone. Generally I only include published material- print or electronic. I skip freebie or self-published games. I'm sure I've left something off without adequate reason; feel free to add a comment about a line I missed (if published in 2012). I've arranged these by year and then alphabetically within that year.

A Polish rpg set in a post-apocalyptic America. Again I ask your indulgence in my translation synthesis. In this game, it seems that a group of aliens allied with the Communists in the 1950s. This set off a century and a half of conflict. Now America has nearly fallen while dark matter and extra-dimensional forces have corrupted the Earth. The game has a mixed atmosphere. It mixes Fallout, Red Dawn, and Twilight 2000. That combination harkens back to older military rpg themes. But there's a dark fantasy undercurrent, not unlike Eden's Armageddon. The term "grotesque" pops up in the descriptions, which I assume is a buzzword the publisher has invested in. Two supplements, Combat Zone and Hard to Kill, have been released to support the core book. Everything looks striking. Despite it not appealing to me, it's nice to see how the vibrancy of the Polish RPG community.

This offers a supernatural post-apocalypse horror setting, but different from any I've seen before. A figure with a strange philosophy of absolute altruism wreaks havoc on the world, demanding everyone aid one another with no compensation- spiritual or otherwise. Those who refused were taken by creatures from The Between. The game itself takes place ten years later with the players forced to choose between acceptance & submission or a struggle to take back the world. I have yet read this, just synopses and read-throughs. Written by Matthew McFarland it uses a playing-card based resolution system. The system takes into consideration the loss of PCs and how that can act as a spur for the rest of the group. That's not an element I've seen in other post-apocalyptic games. curse the darkness has many interesting ideas. It has been supported by a companion, Infinite Shadows, and a fiction collection, The Road to Hell on Earth

A French rpg, Deus l'Ascension offers another alternate history. In the 1980's a demonic invasion devastates the Earth. The timely arrival of "Arelians" bearing potent magics halts the infernal force. Twenty years later humanity struggles in the ruins to rebuild and take back a now-divided Earth. The demons remain out there, feasting at the edges. I think the players either play Arelians or their students. There's an interesting mechanic which has PCs tracking various "soul stats" to cast magic. There's also a strong focus on the military struggle between the sides. Apparently this product arose from local micro-financing; I assume a European version of Kickstarter.

I've mentioned how much I appreciate tools for community development and building in games. Survival, exploration, recovery, and community are the legs of my ideal post-apocalyptic game. I like the idea that challenges can connect to communities and as a player I can invest in expanding those. I like how Apocalypse World and Mutant: Year Zero handles these issues. But often, even when we have those options, the game itself buys into kind of nihilism and a "might makes right" approach. The naked power of a dictator may be bad, but it takes violence to bring them down.

Flatpack's a response to that. You play WRENCHs moving through a ruined world in a quest to discover instant buildings, the Flatpacks of the title. The intent of the game is problem-solving in the face of obstacles, rather than blasting through or battling adversaries. Players bring their characters' traits to bear in an effort to reduce and fix problems. Flatpack describes itself as an optimistic rpg and so rewards constructive and creative solutions. There's a focus on puzzles- logic, physical, etc- used as tabletop elements. The Flatpacks themselves can be play objects- printed out as rewards for the group to arrange and assemble for their home. It's a cool game and one which would work across age ranges.

A pdf-only Australian game, Frankenstein Atomic Frontier lands on the main part of the list because the designers supported this with several supplements and a large revised edition which landed this year (2015). A series of wars eventually led to the creation of a new science and a new "Adam." Eventually while the conflicts devastated civilization, artificial and reconstructed beings still roamed the lands. You play one of these beings, wandering the landscape and trying to find spare parts to keep your body functioning. You have to deal with the few remnants of humanity as well as other genetic projects (like Uplifted Beasts). FAF uses card-based mechanics for resolution. The system places a lot of emphasis on finding new bits and bobs to attach to yourself, which is kind of cool. It reminds me a little of Rippers, but more organic (inorganic?) to the characters. 

Allow me to once again suggest that an awesome Bundle of Holding would be all of the classic Deadlands: Hell on Earth material. Please! In any case, Pinnacle released a new version of this setting, adapted to the newest version of Savage Worlds. The essential premise remains the same. We start with the original Deadlands setting then (Mumble Mumble) we're in 2074 and there's a big nuclear war. Hell on Earth takes up in the wastelands a decade and a half later. It offers a kitchen-sink setting worth exploring. However where the original edition got two dozen supplements, this one only ended up with two: an adventure collection The Worms' Turn and the Hell on Earth: Reloaded Companion. Both of those came out last year, so I don't know if that represents the end of this line.

As I understand it, Stars Without Number offers a pretty awesome OSR sci-fi game. Other Dust is set in the same universe and considers the fate of the lost Earth. In this setting, Jump Technology required the use of Psychics. An incident known as "The Scream" drove those psychics insane, resulting in devastation. Responses and failsafes blew out and rained death from orbit. The powers of the mad psychics combined with high tech weaponry. Satellitel defenses destroyed urban centers and transformative weapons wreaked havoc on the population. Ten generations passed, changing the landscape and humanity itself. Some of those psychics still remain, mad, exiled, and sustained by genetic advancements now lost.

I like it and the game doles that detail out in a tight single page. Just as the set up's a throw back to classic games, Other Dust's mechanics feel familiar. Roll for classic stats, pick package/class, determine mutations, roll HP, and pick starting equipment. And if that rundown put you in mind of games you already knew, then you're probably halfway to knowing the rules here. Most of the necessary mechanics show up in the first 50 pages of this 200 page volume. The layout's spartan, but it works. It isn't as evocative as old Gamma World, but it conveys the tone. So that's all good. But that's not really why you should buy it.

You should pick it up for the rest of the book. That contains the classic bits you'd expect: extensive weapon & equipment sections, a wild bestiary, a sample area, and adventure guidelines. But beyond that is a massive toolkit for post-apocalyptic GMs. Random tables to generate ideas for all kinds of things: enclaves, cabals, trade items, adventure types. It's all here and it's great. We've seen a few books with these kinds of resources before, but I think Other Dust does the best job. The ideas and structures here could be adapted for any sci-fi post-collapse game. It's well-written, dense, and cool. Highly recommended.

This is a setting and campaign background built on the d20 Modern SRD. It's good to see designers still enjoying and wringing new approaches out of that material. PAB takes place in a New Orleans overseen by Baron Samedi, an apparent necromancer, fifty years after WWIII. I was a little surprised by that combo. This setting adds in some magic, in particular the Occultist class. That's apparently significantly breaks from the classic d20 Modern mechanics. At a glance it looks like there's a focus on the making of magical objects and fetishes. The rules also include more classic near-future fare like cybernetics and robotics. About 40 pages of the 230 page book covers the fallen NOLA setting, including factions, city sections, and a host of NPCs. The rest covers mechanical aspects like exploration hazards, post-apocalyptic combat, and magic. This supplement has two versions, the complete GM's version and the truncated Players Guide. The latter contains just a portion of the former. However buying the pdf GM's guide also gives the purchaser four free copies of the Player's Guide (a nice touch). It's nice to see setting specific city material like this. Post-Apocalyptic Blues could be an interesting resource for other games, but so much of the book covers the mechanical bits. But if you dig the idea of a radioactive New Orleans for your PCs, you might consider this.

First, a digression. When I'm running down these games I check against my own copies, online reviews, and pdf previews. I try to get constrcut a sense of the game from those pieces. In the case of Reclamation, I went to download the large preview pdf from RPGNow. At the same time I started up Neutral Milk Hotel's album “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea." The pdf didn't finished loading in my browser until I hit "Holland, 1945" (aka song six). Then I clicked the button to save the pdf to my drive so I could look at it later. When the album finished, it was still downloading. Serving preview pdfs probably sits low in the queue for RPGNow, but having a 54 Meg file for a 40 page preview seems a tad excessive. tl/dr: optimize your pdf files ffs.

Reclamation came about from a Kickstarter campaign, thus proving that for every KS RPG project I'm aware of, a dozen hidden ones exist. This is another kitchen-sink post-nuclear setting. It includes mutations, magics, nano-transformations, psychics, zombie sickness, and so on. That's presented in dense and muddy nine-page prologue. I lost track of events and details. In the end I wasn't sure what to take away. That may be intentional: perhaps aiming to obscure things so the players don't have a solid foundation. I'm not sure.

The game has just as dense character sheets: traits, talents, secondary traits, combat stats, vital damage recording, personal state trackers, plus secondary pages for anyone running mages. It's not a light system which surprised me: since it's card-based. It employs standard poker decks for resolution, with each player using their own. There's some interesting bits in the system (like Masks of Experience which seem to correspond to Keys for other systems). The classes and abilities seem highly tuned to this dark and gritty setting. The mechanics (including equipment, powers, resolution, and GM's guide) take up the majority of this nearly 300 page book. While references throughout help spell out the backdrop, the full development of the setting's reserved to the prologue, epilogue, some of the adventure creation aids, and sample groups. A tiny portion of the book. If you're interested in a new setting, this may not be of as much to you. If you're hunting for a complete new game and/or resolution system, Reclamation has you covered.

But a word of warning: you'd better like crammed text. The book uses a tiny font in two columns combined with dark page frames and minor watermarking. It can be hard to read, especially the font used for boxed text. That's not a deal-breaker for some gamers, but it definitely presented an obstacle for me.

So here's an odd one. Survivors of the Fire released in 2012. However the following year the designer shut down his DriveThruRPG shop and removed everything from sale. I'm not sure of the exact reason. The Facebook posts indicate that having them on the site took some effort, more than it was worth just to leave them up. So he closed down the company. The most recent FB post for the company state the designer had been thinking about returning to making games, but ultimately decided against it.

That made getting information on the game more difficult. It seems to be set in an alternate history where a NBC (nuclear/biological/chemical) war in the 1970's destroyed civilization. The game takes up in 1980 as the PCs deal with the coming Long Winter. Beyond that, the mechanics seem to have been conventional (rolled attributes, skills, d6 basis). The designer released a couple of supplemental products: panels for a GM screen, a truncated version of the core book for players, and an adventure collection called Embers.

Originally the winner of the 2011 RPG Geek 24 RPG Contest, Toypocalypse got a revised edition in 2012. You play sentient toys in an eerie world where all humanity vanished. The buzz line reads: Toy Story meets Lord of the Flies. In only 18 pages it offers a tight explanation of the background, a character creation system with interesting choices, resolution mechanics, and a wealth of novel ideas. Each toy has Pneuma and Morale. The former measures the strength of their soul and the latter is simply their will to press on. The vanishing of humanity remains the great unexplained mystery of the setting. But the toys have little time to consider that and their own sentience, having to deal with survival and dictatorial plushies. Designer Trevor Christensen has also released an introductory campaign supplement as well, Toypocalypse Falls. This thirty page booklet details a location and the factions present, as well as offering tips for running the game.

12. Miscellaneous: Zombies
Showing up on several Best of 2012 lists, Welcome to Mortiston, USA a multi-system location supplement for zombie post-apocalyptic games. Covers details of the event and the cut-off town. It's the only Zombie-themed setting for the year, but 2012 did see three new Z-rpgs. Outlive Undead has a hook. It positions itself as a game and a training tool- teaching people how to survive the coming zombie apocalypse. So it lifts from Max Brook's The Zombie Survival Guide and the dozens of books which imitated that. It isn't a bad approach for an rpg- the conceit of using a game as a teaching instrument works. It also gives the GM an excuse for being particularly awful and unyielding. After all, if their character's can't survive, what chance to the the players have?

On the other hand, Rotworld positions itself as an OSR zombie game. It has everything you need in a compact and dense 64-page rulebook. It uses the classic Pacesetter Chill system mechanics (with a color-coded resolution table). That's a smart move- appealing to several different kinds of nostalgia. The game itself sticks with the most basic zombie-world set up. It isn't exactly my cup of tea, but it is nice to see a game with a strong sense of audience.

I'm very nearly Zed Zero convinced is vaporware. The pitch for the game is so generic- essentially "Hey Zombies!" But I also haven't been able to track down concrete information on the game or the company publishing it. There's a fairly complete entry for it on RPG Geek, with details of the authors and an ISBN. But a search on that ISBN only leads back to the Geek. The publisher Gypsy Rain Studios doesn't work through RPGNow. On the other hand, a couple of people list themselves as owning copies and commented on it, "Percentile based system. Feeling of game is slow, constant building tension. Invokes thoughts of original Resident Evil and Walking Dead comic." Does it exist? I don't know, but if it does, the developers need to do something about their social media presence (and SAY WHY THIS ZOMBIE GAME IS BETTER THAN OTHER ZOMBIE GAMES).

13. Miscellaneous: Other
This year saw several marginally post-apocalyptic setting books for existing games. Vampire Holocaust is horror-tinged post-apocalyptic setting for When Worlds Collide, dimensional exploration rpg. As you can imagine from the title, it has vampires. Oz is Drowning offers a short PA setting for the Swedish RPG, Parallel Worlds. I have no idea if this refers to Australia, the Emerald City, or the Werewolf from Buffy. Swords of Cydoria is a monograph setting for Basic Ropleplaying that I get mixed up with that Muse song. It's a fantastical world with a weird mix of technology that apparently has some post-apocalyptic secrets at the heart of it, but distantly.

More numerous are the marginally PA complete rpgs or those projects only released in electronic format. A pdf-only game with a couple of supplements available for it, Broken Urthe sets itself in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of 45th Century Earth. So take that all you games not hardcore enough to go past the 32nd Century. Fuck Armageddon A Machine Age pdf production which has the players kicking back in the face of upcoming apocalypses. In Godchild there's a war between Angels and Demons, and God loses, leaving behind a wasteland. The PCs take the role of shattered fragments of Jehovah trying to bring some order.

Mistrunner, another Kickstarter project, I'd seen some people mention this as post-apocalyptic. It is, but very distantly. The Earth's devastated, then 3000 years later we end up with an anthropomorphic animals fantasy setting. A free rpg by James Desborough and Andrew Peregrine, ImagiNation is subtitled "Roleplaying in a world of art and madness." Here the worlds of imagination and reality have begun to collide. In particular the British Isles have been subject to the manifestation and manipulation of dreams and nightmares. These lands have been isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. The PCs play scouts heading into these lands for knowledge, rescue, or other reasons. Vesna Thaw is a short, pdf-only game combining giant robots and post-collapse civilization. It has a Russian setting, with the survivors dwelling in nuclear shelters.

Finally, Kuro may or may not be post-apocalyptic. There's a few secrets buried in this cyberpunk/horror hybrid rpg set in a Japan isolated by the international community after an "incident."

Friday, September 25, 2015

Threeforged Game Thoughts: Part 3 (Final)

Here's the last of my #threeforged  impressions. I've gone over all of them, save for a handful I read but skipped commenting on. You can see the full list with downloads here. If you read at least five, you may vote. There's a G+ Community with reviews if you want to see some interesting critiques. Mine have been fleeting impressions, but others have dove in and thoroughly examined what's going on in the presentation. 

Now to try and figure out a top five. My current top 13 in no order. 
  • 15145 20.6 Miles
  • 15136 The World as Such
  • 15133 If At First You Don't Succeed
  • 15125 Pony Express
  • 15112 Anthill
  • 1582 Ad Libitum Absurdity
  • 1579 Conspiracy and Cowards
  • 1577 The Policy of Truth
  • 1559 Magical Mystery Tour
  • 1519 Fallen Sky
  • 159 It is Forbidden
  • 155 Ultranormal Encounters

That being said, there are a bunch of these games which would strongly benefit from workshopping after a revision. I think talking with other readers about what they understood as the intent and focus might help others solidify their vision.

My impressions Part One and Part Two.

1535 Flashback and Fate
Throughout these reviews, I’ve been a big believer in the power of the initial paragraph. If its fiction, it should be short and grabby, but still set the stage clearly. If it is explanation, it should invite me in and tell me what the hook is for the game and something about what we’re going to be playing as and/or doing. This bullet list might be informative, but it is off-putting. It feels like no effort went into synthesis and it doesn’t really help me grok what’s going on because of that. The weird parallel/non-parallel sentences feel messy.
I don’t think the list structure- carried throughout the game, has a connection to the theme, so I’m not sure why they’ve taken this approach.

Player/character confusion. Having done these kind of meta games before, you really have to lock that down. A lot of ideas and directions bundle together without clear transitions and connections. Just making it a list doesn’t mean you don’t have to consider how the reader moves between elements. Here’s another easily fixable thing, if you’re giving an example about Wild Card characters, don’t set that in the Wild West.

Too many admonitions before I even have a sense of what the game’s going to be like. I’m late in these reviews, so I just want to move on. Really needs a developmental editor to help smooth the presentation of ideas and information.

1534 Forgeborn
I like a non-hyphenated subtitle that gives a clear statement of the game. I like crafting systems and games- really excited to see what kind of subsystems they come up with for this. Die-drop map making- nice! I like rolls having value and position. Tactile! Cool- if a finished game the example images will be nice (and can show what’s meant by each term).

I get it, but probably need a little more clarification on the dice buys when first introduced. Marker for Heroine? Ah, not at the start? Have to recruit? Math. I need a math/system person to assess these probabilities and the dearness of dice. Not my wheelhouse.

So I love this BUT it seems very board-gamey. I’d like to see more rpg elements and have more discussion about how those are integrated with play. It feels like gloss here. It also feels very much like parallel play rather than a shared experience. I want to like this a lot more. I think I’d be interested in it, regardless of which direction the designers moved it: more fully a board game with some rpg elements, or more fully an rpg with some bg elements.

1533 Silver Tongues
More mechanized Munchhausen? Perhaps some explanation of the impact of the setting via World Building. What does that do? Why would players need to spend to modify things? Wow, you really throw the complicator in the deep end right away. What if they’re description doesn’t match the stat? Ugh popularity contest resolution. I have players who would hate that. There’s some interesting ideas here, but ultimately I think the competitive nature here puts it out of games I could get to the table. I’m uncertain if this game has too many rules (to keep track of everything) or too few (so you can get a victory spiral).

1532 House of Hades
Weird and evocative opening. I don’t know what we’re going to be doing, but the hooks short and enigmatic enough to grab me. “all encompassed by the grave” poetic or just misspeak? Wonk. Flavor history starts to bury me and we’re thrown back into the character creation process. “For each of the four character elements (places, things, actions, people), circle five of the ten possible symbols and write the number one next to each.” Is this defining terms , process or both? You completely refresh after a conflict, so you always want to play everything from your hand if you can, right? So it isn’t a choice but more a spatial matching problem. Death spiral for failure? Four rounds for the Oracle conflict?

There’s some interesting stuff here- and some mechanical choices I’ll want to see in play. The designers have a clear vision, though it isn’t a game I’d want to play.

1530 Q
I really hate darker page backgrounds. Especially against a font as thin as this body text. Four character and sheet filling out. Will need to time to see how long this takes. The longer this part takes, the higher the chance to different players finishing at different times (and then having them wait for the others to catch up). Lot of pressure on the bard without any real support beyond “tell a story.” Need some more material for them. Background, samples, etc. As it is, ends up being very generic. Literally a game about people telling a story.

1529 Psychic Detective Agency
Again, I’m not a LARP person, so I don’t feel qualified to judge this. I do like the idea of different players having different control over narrative periods. That sounds neat. Generally feels well-written.

1528 Untitled
May giving us a sense of what we’re actually playing? I mean what are we doing as players? Like to know early, especially given the darker tone of that opening. OK, I think there’s no GM, right? Not made clear. Do we need all of these questions? Can we tighten the Clinic list down to say five? Same thing with the staff. I like the hypothesis framing, but it looks like we’re doing a lot of work here. Again. Maybe over egging the pudding. Is there a way to tighten that?

Need a reference card for the scenes. I like this generally, but mostly for the concept and some of the play elements. My feeling overall is that things can be tightened across the board.

1527 Last Year’s Magic
There’s some funny bits in the opening, but it goes on a touch too long. And regardless of the humor, we need some kind of descriptive statement explaining what the game’s about. Call out box if you want it away from this color text.

“Just Roleplay.” How about some kind of conversation starters? Maybe give the players a little more structure or aid to get them started. There’s a lot left vague or unspecified here. “Folk interpretations.” Then moves to trick taking, but not connection between statements and cards played. Bad trick. It looks like it will work, but it doesn’t feel like there’s much meat on the bones here. I wouldn’t mind something with the flavor of The Face in the Frost, but this need further development.

1525 Space Problems Argh
The fragment sentence structure approach doesn’t feel informal or breezy to me, just incomplete. Why the full list when we can only be a few of them? Is it assumed we have this gear when we take that skill? Again, many things presented abruptly. There’s room for development and fleshing out. Why question marks on some of the victory conditions?

Are we rolling the initial problem details? Probably need to explicate that process. Overall I like this and it has potential. It’s held back by the outline approach and underdevelopment. Given more room to breathe and really thinking about how to present rules to readers (rather than just sketching things out) could make this strong.

1524 The Hot Seat
I’m going to hold off on reviewing this because I’ve been working on something close to it for a while.

1523 Timelines
OK, this needs a reduced list of point of references, to have the full list at the end, or both. Created in sequence or placed in sequence? Playing out instructions under “Let’s Start Playing” feels like “And then a Miracle Occurs.” If this is only an overview and we’ll get full instructions later, then it needs to be trimmed. If this is the total explanation- just roleplay- then it needs development.

Reminds me, tangentially, of Everyone is John. Does each Jamie incarnation need the full run of regrets? Why the switch in format between these regrets and the first set? Should/must these connect/not connect with the earlier regrets? Time travel is confusing. If that’s part of what this game is trying to emulate, then it succeeds.

Form of time travel seems really crucial, but left fuzzy. Mind sending, omniscient intervention, double selves. That impacts the narrative logic significantly. There’s a ton of great stuff here, but ultimately there’s a weird gap in the “just do it” discussion of the scenes. And then it gets super complicated. How would you go about explaining this to new players? What key ideas do the players have to grok?

1522 Untitled
Magical Burning of Moscow. Travelling game- I like that. Is this an adaptation or just a skin for an existing game? How should we consider that? Little for the players to build on in creating their characters. Probably need to offer more aid in that process. Ideas, suggestions, etc- or talk about how their choices shape the world they’re playing in. Stats, but effectively they’re all equal? Phrasing makes that a little confusing. Flaw or fault?

Formatting and typos distract here. 47 possible road day incidents. Lots of mechanics handwaved or not fully explained. Who narrates the results? Not immediately clear. Short and underdeveloped. Early on a suggestion that we’re going to have a fuller presentation of the base system? But then it just looks like the mechanics of the game. How is this distinct from the base system?

1519 Fallen Sky
An interesting idea. I’ve only seen two post-apocalyptic games with a strong Western flavor. Deadlands comes off as more horror and Helix comes off as more gonzo. Good opening material: sets stage and moves us on. In play will probably need a reference card for suits and actions. Some of the action groupings there aren’t intuitive for me. Like the character deck and drafting thing there. We do something like that with Action Cards.

OK, this is pretty awesome. Jumps into my top ten. Clean, clear and novel mechanics, a solid combination of background material and rules, letters home are pretty cool. Good balance of detail and imaginative space left to the players.

1518 The Prophet’s Price
Glad to see a citation for the art. Is that in CC now? Maybe clarify a little early the modern backdrop? As it is we don’t know that until the middle of page 3. It’s suit of cards, not suite, right? Or is there some specific use of the term for effect happening here? Maybe not the best thing to title a section with the name of a Major Arcana immediately after the section explaining meanings. My mind immediately thought this was defining the card’s symbology, but we’d moved on to another topic. Italics for titles helps in reading: The Prophet’s Price.

There’s a good deal of material here and it hits many heavy ideas in succession. Need to fix some of the distraction typos and look to how you can format this to aid the reader in following the ideas. It seems like a good editor and some workshopping could help condense some of the ideas down here. They need to be further distilled. Seems like the backdrop’s generic. That works against the material, given that we’re trying to grasp some really abstract ideas. Examples and concrete details would help.

1517 Voyage of the Promethean
There’s a casual tone in the intro that I assume is going to carry through the game. Slacker space travelers, man, amirite?

How much is messiness just because it’s messy and how much deliberate presentation. Hard to judge and I think that might be an obstacle for the reader. "Set Up" just seems loose for example, rather than the playful tone of the opening. How many questions to answer? How long will that take? Character vs. character roles: be precise when you’re throwing terms around.

Torn on how much forward the references should be here. Do we need some explanation of the (parenthesis) or the matched flaw? Inbred doesn’t sound good.

How the system works needs more fleshing out. Confusing and hard to piece together on a read right now. In part because I’m still reeling from the new terms from before. Now we’re getting even more. Mood comes really late after it’s been referenced quite a bit. There’s some interesting ideas here, though it feels generic in places. The roles seem cool and like they’re the place where the game wants to convey setting. But a chunk of it feels rushed- certainly examples would help throughout.

Also my initial impression that we were taking a slacker tone (ala Red Dwarf or the like) in the intro doesn't play out in the rest of the material. That makes the intro just messy.

1513 Blue Shift
OK those images are annoying. I assume that’s an error introduced later. The text ran over the art, but I turned on the word wrap and moved some of them. Now it’s cool- especially since they cite sources.

Nice, cleaner statement of play at the start. Intriguing as comedy can be really hard. It think the only comedy rpgs I like the humor of are TfOS and Ghostbusters.

If we’re presenting some logic to the garbage problem, then better answer the “why not throw it into sun?” question. I am, unfortunately getting flashbacks to the terrible Human Occupied Landfill game. Or Low-Life? Some word drops here. Page three and we’re still getting background. Twist, twist, twist. Quintuple mumbo jumbo.

Character creation requires some wacky, lateral thinking. Connections and secret shift tone? How necessary these elements? Any direction we should be steering those creation elements toward- advice on best practices? The examples have a pvp element. Is that encouraged? There’s a good deal of “And then a miracle occurs” in the scene material, but less than other games so far. The picking mechanic for dice seems really wonky and arbitrary. If our reasoning is “well, they need to play to the spirit” then why have an involved resolution system? If we want choices and simulation, then having it be this open seems to work against it.

The setting’s really interesting and I dig the premise. I’m not taken by the mechanics and that’s too bad. It’s another case where workshopping to pull out the designers’ intent might help.

1512 Anonym
“Let’s get this out of the way” opens with a slightly antagonistic tone? Is that going to carry through the game. This is the first thing we see: why? What’s the logic of presenting this first and taking that voice?

OK that’s a shaggy dog idea that takes a while to come around. This is how we create characters- wait. No. We’ll come back to that. Strange order of information. We have some sarcastic asides and tone bits, but they’re infrequent. Makes me unsure what tone this wants.

Character creation sheet. That’s a funny joke. But I don’t want to do that. Outside my wheelhouse. I can already imagine some of the problems we’d have. I have some players who read very slowly, while others rush through. Here’s the thing, there’s a tone here that reminds me of Time & Temp, but the earlier bits don’t sync up with this.

1511 Galactic Arena
Opening states ideas, but sentence structures need examination. I understand the peer pressure reference is a joke, but it lands flat. Until everyone has written something on each card? Do we need that many? Can we duplicate events on the cards? How long will this creation process take? For a one-shot, it’s taking a long time to get to character creation. Ways to mechanize and/or speed this up?

Is there a reason you wouldn’t take the highest, given that the rules make mention of this? Interesting use of the Moves. Curious if some of those are significantly more worthwhile. Interesting overall, but I want to see more.

1510 Damned
No citation or references given for images.

159 It is Forbidden
Images are clearly older, out of copyright, but probably ought to cite sources? Guides for the questioning process to establish the premises?

OK. This is pretty great. Solid, well-written and it deals with questions I had right away. Looks cool and I would definitely play this.

156 The Deep
Another game where the heading font comes through as some kind of unreadable gothic text. “2 to 5 man game”- be careful about gender exclusive language. Confused in the synopsis- takes a moment to catch that The Deep isn’t referring to space, but some kind of phenomena. Some typos here that interfere with the reading; a good edit should help fix some of this. Overall really needs a good pass through or two in skilled hands to make it smoother.

There’s some real confusion in the explanations. We start with exceptions and sub-details before establishing main concept. Bullet list doesn’t work here: break up the steps to make going through easier. Right now it is a jumble of text. Some weird off references. There’s a lot of colorful setting ideas early and then “the Gm just makes stuff up” when we get to play. Resolution system seems OK. I’m not fond of the pvp elements here.

155 Ultranormal Encounters
I dig interview style games (like Penny for Your Thoughts or inTERRORgation). Playsets, ok that’s cool. I like the idea of card draw for modifying the basic facts: good combination of structure and collaboration. And we have parallelism with the character creation material. Nice! Good structure for the Questioner/Agents. Wow. Cool method for play passing.

Solid. Good game. Want to see the fleshed out version.

153 Double Potions
Full circle. When we first got access to these games, I opened and read this one. Now, having gone through all the rest I come back to it.

Since I first read this, I’ve picked up the Alchemists board game, so I have that in the back of my head. Well, that plus the other various HP games in the competition. Are the specializations examples or do they cover the whole spectrum. At least simple cc. Players taking role of the opposition in other players’ scene. No mechanical resolution. Purely subjective, perhaps some cut off mechanism? Bag drawing- worried about the fiddyness. Ah, the “You” here means the group and not the individual players. Potion process itself: need to see that actually played out. Verdict is wholly arbitrary? Doesn’t seem like a good payoff.

Feels boardgame-y. Maybe could be shifted to emphasize those elements? Something like a storytelling hybrid (ala Tragedy Looper?).

...and done. 

 You can see the full list with downloads here. If you read at least five, you may vote.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sources of Inspiration: Play on Target Podcast Ep. 46

This week the Play on Target podcast does a round-robin to talk about various sources of inspiration. Each host offers up two different books or tools they've been thinking about and what that's brought to the table. Some of us talk about games, some about online resources, some about fiction books. I scribbled down some things I'd never heard of. I particular happy with our back and forth about how you'd translated some of these concepts into play. 

Since we cover things tightly tied to gaming in the episode, I want to talk about some interesting non-gaming books here. I listen to a lot of my books now- while I’m driving, doing busy work, painting figures, playing Euro Truck Simulator. But I can only do that with non-fiction. For some reason my brain can’t track fiction books; they leave me cold. I had the same problem with radio dramas, so I should have expected that. 

In any case I’ve worked through some just blah books recently (What if? by Randall Munroe; When to Rob a Bank by Levitt & Dubner; and Forensic History from The Great Courses series). But three others have stuck with me. I tend to read for gaming. If I’m doing a particular genre I try to read materials at least tangentially related. So when I last worked on fantasy, I went through Byzantine and Arab history. When I was thinking about wuxia and L5R, I worked through Chinese and Mongol histories. I even listened to a massive biography of Howard Hughes for a Changeling game (long story). I sometimes read off-topic, as you’ll see. Of my recent reading, I can recommend three  books, with some caveats.

Blood Royal by Eric Jager is ostensibly a true-crime medieval murder mystery. In 1407 Louis of Orleans was killed by assassins in the streets of Paris. That appealed to me. I’m running a City Guards game, so I wanted to see some of the primitive investigation process and its limitations. Not that I’m bringing any realism to the table, but sources like this give me details and ideas to throw in. It’s narrated by Odo from DS9, so that’s a plus.

But a murder mystery this is not. It is a procedural for the first half of the book. There’s a good deal of sharp set up: detailing the investigator Guillaume de Tignonville, Provost of Paris; the nature of the city; the political realities of the time; and the atmosphere of the early 15th Century. That has lots of cool bits and some ideas for relations between institutions. However, if you’re an amateur medievalist, you’ll probably already know most of this. Anyway, we get a ways into the book before the murder happens. Then there's some cool stuff about the investigation: how they interviewed, what they looked for on site, how they secured the scene. But then the murderer’s revealed: pretty quickly and pretty obviously. In some ways it feels like the investigation doesn’t matter.

And then we switch to the second half of the book covering the political fallout from that revelation. That goes on and on and on. The second half’s more a history of the civil war and English invasions which tore France apart. Don’t get me wrong, it has sharp detail but it’s far away from what the title promised. It is a great book for anyone doing courtly stuff: lots of detail on the back and forth, as well as how different parties responded to different slights. So I recommend this with reservations. If you go in knowing the limitations you might be cool with it. 

Forgotten Ally: China’sWorld War II 1937-1945 by Rana Mitter was an impulse buy. I don’t know Asian history very well so I’ve been trying to correct that (Foundations of Eastern Civilization and Barbarian Empires of the Steppes from The Great Courses). I had a fairly good sense of the Victorian era, especially about Shanghai. But I had no clue about the 20th Century. Since I planned to run an alt 1930’s game, I wanted to explore parts of the period I didn’t know well to help with my world building. 

This book is heavy. This book is hard. Everything’s in painted in shades grey or maybe really everyone’s just dark as night: from the Japanese devastation of cities in the invasion, to the Nationalists breaking the dykes on the Yellow River and killing 500,000 people, to the earliest Communist confession campaigns. Everyone's awful. Beyond that, the attitude of Western officials and their treatment of China throughout the war is sickening, from Churchill to Stillwell to Roosevelt. I knew that the conflict between China and Japan had happened before WW2, but I hadn’t had the context. China became vital to Allied strategic objectives once the the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But the Allies seemed to ignore that the country had been at war, on their own, for four+ years already.

So, for me at least, it colored in a whole page of history I had only the briefest knowledge of. It isn’t a pretty picture, but does show the political and cultural realities of the time. If the book has a shortcoming, it’s that focuses on big name actors: Chiang Kai-shek, Wang Jingwei, Mao Zedong, and their various rivals, allies, officers, and family members. We get some on the ground details: usually about conditions in cities under siege, horrors in the countryside, and observations from elites. The book was especially interesting since I read Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem about the same time. Having some of that historical context made many references come alive in that sci-fi novel. Recommended, but only for those who have a real interest in the period/place.


So yesterday the Bundle of Holding posted that they’re doing a bundle for Aces & Eights, a Western rpg. I always check out the BoH offerings, and I’m generally a sucker for them. Then I read that in this setting, the South won the Civil War and the North splintered into fragments.

And I got a little nauseous. Because I thought about the implications of that. Not about the game; I don’t know it; it might well be awesome and redemptive.

But I’d just gotten through The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist. And that’s all I could think of when I heard that premise: all the horrors and violations of the Whipping Machine, the corrupting hypocrisy it infected in everyone, and the sufferings of the enslaved under a terrorist authority.

The Half Has Never Been Told analyzes just how integral Slavery was to the growth of America. It punches through the bootstrap notions of the rise of American industry. It makes clear how much the North depended on the South to even begin to become what it was. And how much everyone knew that and acceded to the demands of that institution, because they’d invested and bought into it. The book breaks down and analyze the machine that was slavery. It shows how it squeezed efficiencies out to rival industrial development. And it did this via murder, rape, terrorism, and torture. How it consciously and deliberately shattered the enslaved destroying family bonds, corrupting religious connections, and making them into raw materials.

This book changed the way I look at things. It tints statements about economics and humanity I read. It’s amazingly well-written, painful, and compelling. I could say more, but it’s almost more a gut feeling. If you’re at all, even vaguely, interested in any facet of this: 19th Century history, economics, the Civil War, race relations, slavery, or the like, I really, really think you should try this out. 

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check it out. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at www.playontarget.com.