Friday, September 28, 2012

Player Dickery and Drama

A nice post about player dickery by Roblin D. Laws...

The State of Childhood, and Thus the State of Humanity

Kinda chilling, ain't it? This is pretty much what society wanted my parents to do to me when I was a kid, since I couldn't sit still for longer than a half hour at a time (and still fidget a bit even at 24). It's ridiculous, because the only thing "wrong" with me was an overabundance of energy and the need to express it at every single moment. This cartoon is what's SO frickin' wrong with society, and makes me so damn angry that they want to repress our base urges, except of course for the sexual one...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The REAL Burning Wheel Gold Review

OK, so I posted a review of Burning Wheel Gold at the beginning of the year, but it was based off of a few read-throughs and playtest reports from forums, so no personal experience to really relate to anybody. It's been 10 months and I've had quite a bit of time to run not just Burning Wheel but Mouse Guard and Burning Empires. So, here's my review, after 10 months of being soaked up in Luke Crane's work, and what do I think?

This is a truly remarkable game. There are some parts of the game that I'm not a particular fan of (character creation, you giant pain in the ass you), but the things that Burning Wheel sets out to do it does so well that I'm in awe of it. What does it set out to do? An RPG that will make stories similar to Lord of the Rings, the Earthsea Cycle, the Count of Monte Cristo. What does this mean? The RPG is designed to give you a story that will be long, character-driven, and fun, while keeping the sanctity of the character not being you, but someone who you watch develop and become attached to. This last point is probably the most important difference between this and other RPGs. We'll get back to that in a little bit. 

Burning Wheel is a D6 dice pool-based system. You roll a number of six-sided dice equal to your number in the skill, and try to roll a number of successes equal to the obstacle number, or Ob. If you succeed you get intent that you originally stated, carte blanch If you fail, however, the GM instead gets to muck with your original intent while making sure the plot still moves forward. Failed your Power check to knock that door down? Oh, you get the door down, but you attract the attention of your hated rival, who has been following you the whole damn time. Or the guards. Or your father, who owns the facility. Y'know, something awful and unforeseen but that doesn't get in the way of the narrative. These results stand for the entirety of the session, thanks to the Let It Ride rule, which states that all die rolls, unless changed, stand. So if you failed that Power check, all applicable Power checks fail until the situation changes or the end of the session. If the GM can't think of an interesting failure for your task, you automatically succeed.  Notice that interesting should mean something linked to your Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits, also known as BITs.

Oh, right, BITs. I should probably explain those. 

Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits are the things that make the wheel turn! These determine not only characterization, but where the plot will go, and what hooks the players and GM will be able to pull on to make the story move. Beliefs are an ethical statement with a specific plan of action attached to said Belief. This is where you get to state what your character is about and what he is going to do about it. Instincts are those little things your character has learned to do in the course of his life that aren't necessarily the best things to do, but he does them anyway (like "Never accept an insult"). Traits are personality traits that you are the embodiment of, for good and for ill. 

You then get rewarded for playing out your BITs with something called Artha. Artha are points that you get for role-playing in such a way that the story moves forward. There are three types of Artha: fate (for playing out your BITs, especially to the point of trouble!), persona (for fulfilling personal goals and breaking free of your BITs), and deeds (going beyond your own problems and helping everyone in a heroic fashion). Artha may then be spent to improve your dice rolls so you can get what you want. If you're playing the game correctly you find that you've got a good story-game, filled with drama and tension as you earn Artha for playing out your flaws and spend said Artha so you can get your goals accomplished. 

That's essentially the game in a nutshell, folks, but there's a bit more to it. Burning Wheel has a lot more to offer, and this is where a lot of people have issue with the game, because Burning Wheel refuses to do anything like any other RPG I've ever seen. This is good, because the mechanics are exactly suited for the game, but bad, because the mechanics are just enough out of the norm to get some rather significant balking from people, particularly RPG vets. If you've never played an RPG before this won't be as much trouble, but the next section is a bit more for the people who have issue with the following mechanics. 

Burning Wheel has a series of extended conflict resolution mechanics that are based off of the same basic idea. You construct a series of actions from 3-9 moves ahead of time, and play them out against your opponent, who has done the same. These moves are then resolved in a rock-paper-scissors format. This is done for two very good reasons: it puts a very strong tension into the conflict and it keeps the sanctity of player-character separation completely intact. I have never had so much tension as I've had in a single Fight! or Duel of Wits, because you genuinely have no idea what is going to happen next. I've seen conflicts turn around so quickly it makes my head spin. And again, this reinforces the fact that you are not your character, something that is critical to making this game run. Why is this critical?

Burning Wheel is designed to be resolved in 30+ sessions, and some games last years. You are watching a character evolve for a very long time, and, quite frankly, that can be a little dangerous without the proper distance.People get all wrapped up in their characters all the time and that's a bit unhealthy. Burning Wheel recognizes this and makes sure that you will always be a spectator of your character's actions, not a perpetrator.

Now, on to the thing I don't like about Burning Wheel: length of character creation. What you do is you put together a basic history of what your character has been doing all the way up to the beginning of the story in what's called Life Paths. It's a fine system, and is frankly quite awesome, I just don't like how long the ****ing thing takes, especially with beginners (myself included). It's taxing and exhausting, and sometimes is just infuriating how detailed it is. But, the thing is that all these parts are necessary to make the game work in this particular way. 

And that's the last thing you need to know about this game: it is NOT for everyone, and was never intended to be. Burning Wheel is heavy, crunchy, finicky, intense, and very particular. If you read this review and find that some of the things in this game really don't jive with you, that's fine! Burning Wheel is not the only story-based game out there, but it's a really awesome one. Do NOT buy this game looking for a catch-all RPG, because this isn't it and, let's be honest here, such an RPG doesn't really exist (no, not even DnD). But if you're looking for a game that will give you a story like the Lord of the Rings, the Earthsea Cycle, and the Count of Monte Cristo, this is that game. It's only 25 bucks for an awesome hardcover, and I cannot begin to tell you how excited this game makes me on a weekly basis.

The City's Lights: The First Episode of After Story

Well guys, it's that time of year again: yet another person borrowing my Clannad DVDs and watching the show. It seems to happen once or twice every quarter, so I was happy that this time it was my roommate, the inestimable Sparky. Maria and I got him to watch Angel Beats first (we convinced him by telling him there were guns) and, once he was hooked on that, I gave him the Clannad DVDs to watch. He got through the first season relatively quickly for someone on 18 credit hours and about 20 hours of work a week. So, he started After Story earlier this week, and Maria and I had the joy of watching the first episode of After Story with him. 

First things first: THE SHEEP ARE DANGOS!!! THE SHEEP ARE DANGOS!!! HOLY SHIT THE SHEEP ARE DANGOS!!! I can't believe it took me this long to figure it out, but to be honest I didn't really care to think about it until Josh emailed me and asked what the sheep were about. Now I look at them, and it makes perfect sense! They're the right shape, size, and the smell is what tipped me off... (the girl says they have a nice smell, like another certain little girl who says the dango has a nice smell). Anyway, now that that mystery's been solved...

This show has a special genius to it: it takes the final plot of the show and finds ways to repeat it throughout the show. Fuko, Kotomi, Tomoyo, Nagisa, the entirety of the first season repeats this cycle of introducing characters, identifying the problem, trying to solve the problem with just your own strengths and failing, and then calling upon the larger world to help in solving the problem and succeeding.  It's a beautiful cycle, one that writers should pay special attention to. 

The first episode of Afterstory manages to do this all in one episode with the awesomeness of a baseball game. Everyone gets together and plays for the common and personal good, and everything falls to Tomoya. Despite whatever misgivings and deficiencies he has, he is told that he can do it, and that Nagisa depends on him to get her home. Tomoya hits the homerun, much to his incredible surprise and joy, and logs in yet another memory-light for the robot to notice in the other world. It's a reflection of the last episode of the show in the clearest way, and is honestly the best bit of foreshadowing in the show.

Tellin'ya, people, the show is GENIUS.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Brief Gaming Check-In

So, my brain's fried and I'm pretending to type notes for AnP, but I want some amount of brain activity. Is it bad that the most difficult thing I can think to do is blog on what I've been doing for gaming recently? Well, currently I've got two live games, and an online game that needs to be finished up.

Revenge of the Countess of Fire, Burning Wheel
Based off the Count of Monte Cristo, Revenge of the Countess of Fire has had three sessions so far and, while it's first two sessions were a bit low-key, has begun to pick up with the last session (which I still need to do a write-up on). I'm  really liking playing Burning Wheel with a smaller group, because I can finally have the feel of a larger novel where there's just character-building chapters. The game has this feel of "we'll get there eventually" and I'm really liking that. I finally have my epic-story-line-game that'll take years to play. Aaaaaaah... the water's so nice and warm...

Thrawn, Burning Empires
Gosh, this game has been awesome right out the gate, for exactly the opposite reasons why Revenge of the Countess of Fire is awesome! This game has gone through one not-world-building-session, but it's extremely focused and fast-paced with more frequent awardings of artha. From a mechanical standpoint this game has been surreal, and the story's going pretty well so far too (I have to do a play report for this game too).

The Happenings at Port Sumac, Mouse Guard
This is the online game I was running over the summer, and it got this close to being completed, but then life happened.. yeah, we still need to finish. The game has had a lot of technological issues to such an extent that the game has suffered as a result. I hope to get the game done soon, though. My players deserve a good ending.

So, as you can see, I'm spending a lot of time with Luke Crane's games What can I say, the man's a genius and I'm having a blast!

What might be coming up for the online gaming community is a game of Misspent Youth, and My Life with Master is in the mail, and coming to my door.... oh! Andy owes me a Burning Wheel game! I wish to collect. Not that he's ignorant of it, by now. I did post on his Facebook demanding my game. We'll see if he's like a PEZ dispenser in that regard.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Commentary on Mike Mearls' Thoughts

Mike Mearls comments on the new packet that went up a few weeks ago for DnDN, and finally addresses the principle problem of DnD: healing. Well, actually, sorry, that's not the principle problem that DnD has when it comes to injuries, it's hit points. Let me explain.

When DnD was in it's old school phase up through 3rd edition, hit points were very low. This represented a character's ability to take a death blow and turn it into a scrape with armor, luck, and skill. Obviously, most people don't have a lot of luck, because eventually your HP went to 0 and you got hit, at which point your poor character would go down. HP makes sense when it's not very high, because you could conceivably say that your character isn't actually getting hit and believe it. 10-50 HP allows for a pretty good representation of a person's luck, endurance, and skill.

So what's that got to do with healing? No actual damage has been dealt, so why bother healing? Why not regen your HP fully? I mean, it makes sense in the middle of battle for a cleric to restore your.... gah.... story stuff is SO CONVOLUTED!

Remind me to never use HP in any game I design in the future, guys. Not without seriously taking it apart and thinking it over again.

The Nature of Most of the Issues Most People Have with Burning Wheel

Thank you, XKCD. You may not have meant to start a rant on my end, but you did. I hope that makes you feel good about yourself.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: The Broken Condom

... I now have a morbid desire to see this game come to pass....

Modern Art- First Impressions

So, one of my classes for my last semester of college (WOOT! WOOT! WOO....wait, a job?? What's that?) is History of Modern Art. The class is pretty fascinating, covering the advent of the modern movement in the 19th century to it's.... whatever it's at right now. Yeah.

Please keep in mind that I have not completed the course and (even when I do) I have not a complete knowledge of the history of art. That would take... more time than I have to invest.

Just to let you all know, I am a hater of modern art. It's weird and boring and depressing and I'm not here to find out about the personal psychosi of the artist and I just wanna see something beautiful, damnit! So most of modern art is not only alien, but it's offending. I took the Modern Art class because it was required but also to see why art has become the domain of the snobbish and obscenely rich.

What I've discovered so far has not helped.

Turns out that the reason why this whole thing started was because international trade on a huge scale began, and so art began to be swapped around the nations. The art that took Europe by storm was Japan. So a lot of artists abandoned their training and started to emulate the woodcuts of Japan. They wanted to do this because it was beautiful, something I can appreciate. Abandoning a rule set to do something good is something I can appreciate and like.

I mean, wow, that's beautiful!
The issue I think I have is when the artists decided to abandon form, because warping the form is clearly not the problem. Technically no artist has ever faithfully rendered the human form ever, Michelangelo and the Greeks included! But going away from form and making... this?

Jackson Pollock, Number 8, BTW'S

It's paint splatters, nothing more. He's not describing anything in the painting. "But, but his artist's statement! You need that!", I hear the modern artist crying. Here's a secret, you guys: no one gives a shit. "Educate" me all you like, you're not going to get rid of my common sense observation that an object that I view is complete and total, and should require little to no explanation, cultural explanations excepted. The un-educated, unwashed masses know this, and I see no reason why I should have to raise from their unwashed level, smelly as they are, because I'm making art for them.

So please, keep your deep explanations of the meaning of reality, keep your hatred of the established Western order, keep your "we're educated so we know better" crap and shove it where the sun don't shine, cause that's where it belongs.'s THAT for diplomacy, people?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Misspent Youth Read-Thru Review just wow. That's what I think after reading through the rules of this game. There are some games that you find yourself liking because of nostalgia, some because of your friends, and some because they're just frickin' AWESOME.

Misspent Youth is in the last category.

First, let's get the bad out of the way: the physical product. No, I am not talking about the artwork or the layout or anything like that: those are good, if a bit confusing at first (more on that in a second). The actual book was shipped in a comic book sleeve and backing board. While this makes sense (given that the book's only about 100 pages and it's softcover) it's extremely flimsy, a factor that almost no RPG book should be! I'm afraid of taking the book out of its bag because I might damage it or destroy it and, given what sort of accidents can happen to RPG books, that really may not be too far off. I can understand wanting to keep the print cost down (and really, considering the production values on the book in general, I'm grateful), but this book really could have used an actual hardback.

Speaking of production values, WOW, this book's got some nice layouts and art. While most of it's just photos and a few pieces of line art, the book feels like a punk song (notably Blink 182): it's jumbled, raw, honest, and glorious (yes, I just used "glorious" to describe punk music). While the layout of the book is a bit difficult to get used to, it's only because of it's unusual orientation of text, and not because it doesn't work. Which it does, and gloriously at that (notice a pattern here?). I mean, if the type was straight the book just wouldn't... work. The only trouble I had with this was that I couldn't really read the Eye-bleeding edition PDF (which Mr. Bohl, the writer of the RPG, gives for FREE! So check it out!). So the book is very pretty, in it's own dysfunctional and nutty way.

What about the rules, though? Misspent Youth is an indie mostly-rules-lite RPG, that focuses on a group of friends from 12-17 trying to take down The Authority, a person or a force or a government that's screwing up the world. The group collaboratively decides what's screwed up and how, and assigns one player to be The Authority (the GM). The Authority's job is to provide adversity and be that pain in the ass of the players.

Each of the players pick a series of traits that represent their youth and innocence. During play, in the midst of one of the seven conflicts you'll have in a session, you can sell out one of these traits to a trait more like the Authority so you don't fail a check. The game is over when one of the characters is entirely sold out, at which point you determine whether the characters or the Authority won. It's a game that gets steadily darker and darker, until one of the characters looks almost exactly like the threat everyone's been fighting. The game is mostly free-form RP with a few minutes given to the conflict resolution mechanic, which is very simple and unobtrusive. The sessions start off with a bit of ad-libbing, which will decide what goes on during that session. NO PREP WORK FOR THE GM IS GOOOOOOOOOD...

OK, by now you can tell I think the game's awesome, at least from a read-thru. Despite my misgivings about the durability of the product I really like the game. I'm definitely going to try and run it soon, and if I do I'll letcha know how it works in play!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Revenge of the Countess of Fire, Chapter 1

So here's the opening session of the campaign. We were all tired so it was a bit flat, but ultimately it worked out pretty well. Nothing beyond the basic rules were used, so there were no extended conflicts. This session happened two weeks ago, so my notes aren't that complete, but I wrote up what I could remember.

Here's the players and characters:

Elenor Grinslow: Played by Maria. Here's her Beliefs and Instincts. Elenor was a noblewoman who ran away from home to escape an arranged marriage. She became a criminal fence, and only recently came back to head up her family, due to the death of her parents.

Belief 1: My purpose is to further my business ruthlessly.

Belief 2: I will protect any secrets of my family.

Belief 3: I will deny my criminal past.

Instinct 1: Always have my weapons ready.

Instinct 2: Never depend or trust people without proof of their credibility.

Instinct 3: If people approach me, I pay strict attention to their non-verbals.

The Hungry One: Played by Eric. Wolf, who was at first caged. He escaped by eating his feeder. He's been part of the criminal element ever since.

Belief 1: I want to steal the item to hurt a human and bring me profit. And it's fun!

Belief 2: Talwyn is the only person I am afraid of. I will put up with the girl for the moment.

Belief 3: I will find my old captors and I will kill them.

Instinct 1: If I see a human I don't know I will deal with them aggressively.

Lena Mekish: The daughter of the Vermin Lord. She's aware of her ancestry, but no one else is. Is currently in a romantic relationship with Aldwynn, the leader of the criminal element in their town. Played by Martha

Belief 1: erased from the character sheet, but it had something to do with retrieving the item in question.

Belief 2: I will do anything for Talwynd as best as I can because I want him to stay in love with me.

Belief 3: I will talk to Kincaid in order to see if he knows anything about my father's demise.

Instinct 1: I always make sure I am safe before I think of anyone else.

Instinct 2: I draw at least two kunai at the slightest sign of something looking out of place.

Kincaid: played by Julio. Stock: spider. The husband of Honey, who's the leader of the revolutionary spider movement, whose aims are to liberate the spiders from their slavery. Kincaid's a bit of a nut.

Belief 1: Honey's beliefs are always my beliefs, her goals are always my goals.

Belief 2: Talwynd suggested I couldn't pull off this job, so I will do it anyway!

Belief 3: The only way to gain power is to gain a reputation.

Instinct 1: A challenge is something that will always be accepted.

Instinct 2: If there's any chance of danger stay in the shadows, and watch.

-Aldwyn gathered Lena and The Hungry together, and told them that there was an item in Elenor's basement that he needed. The characters were not to know what the item was (and hell, even the GM didn't know!), but Aldwyn was told it was an item of enormous value. Camren decided she was going to infiltrate the house as a new maid.

-Elenor was visited by Honey, the leader of the spider resistance movement, and was asked (aka forced) to buy a shipment of especially absorbent wood. Elenor attempted to find out what the shipment was for, but was unsuccessful in getting any addition information. She accepted the job, and Honey left, promising to keep in touch.

-Kincaid broke into Elenor's attic and bumped into another thief, a woman!

-Camren then snuck into Elenor's house as a maid and stole downstairs, taking The Hungry One with her when she was sure no one else was watching. She broke into "the room", and discovered that the package was a man who was able to control electricity! He cowed Camren and the Hungry One into stepping aside and letting him go.

-Meanwhile, Kincaid made a ruckus up in the attic, causing everyone to run upstairs, facilitating the mysterious stranger's escape from the house. The woman thief escaped as well.

-The Hungry One attempted to follow the stranger, but was caught and forced to run for his life in fear from the obviously superior being.

-At about the same time, Elenor realized that someone was trying to break into her recently-closed shop, and she fled out the back door. It was the mysterious stranger, of course. Kincaid saw her leave, and watched as the stranger burned the following words of the store: "Adrick Grinslow, I will kill your daughter for what you did to me".

-Kincaid followed from a far distance the stranger, who got on board an airship, which took off a few minutes later.

-Elenor arrived at her house, and found out about the chaos that had preceded her coming. Her head servant revealed that the stranger was being held by Adrick, Elenor's father, and he had no idea as to why.

-After a convo with Aldwynd Camren and the Hungry One headed back to Elenor's and checked in on her. Kincaid revealed that it was Camren and the Hungry One who had let out the stranger in the first place, and then offered Honey's protection to Elenor. Elenor declined.

-Everyone parted ways to try and figure out what the hell they were going to do next.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Revenge of the Countess of Fire: Opening Session

Here's the initial pitch that I made to my players for the Burning Wheel game I wanted to start.

"About 20 years before the start of the game the dwarves completely destroyed the Iron Forest, thus upsetting a young boy and his wolf pack. This little disparate group went on to collect other tribes of wolves as well as orcs, spiders, and trolls, and were determined to destroy the civilized lands for their condescension. The elves, humans, and dwarves did not fare well against the now-dubbed Vermin Lord, who was hailed as a military genius. The "civilized races" reformed their governments into a permanent republic, which allowed for the creation of a dictator, called the Eaten One, who was to lead the armies of the republic until the threat was abolished. The Eaten One would then be thrown to the One in the Deep and devoured (hence Eaten One, although the reference to Le Guin makes me chuckle). The Eaten One wasted in no time in setting out against the Vermin Lord, won by sheer numbers, and captured The Vermin Lord, hanging him in the public square. The orcs and trolls escaped, but the spiders and wolves were enslaved. All was restored to peace.

Until the son of the Vermin Lord was found orchestrating a new uprising by his three best friends, and sent to Mount Grayfire, where he met an untimely end falling into the heart of the volcano. It's now twenty years later, and things are beginning to stir back up in the city where the three friends came to dwell...

Basically The Count of Fire will try and take over the criminal under element first, so that way he can do the most damage to his rivals. It helps to have a good spy network."

I posted that up on the Burning Wheel forums, where they pitched the idea that everyone could play a game centered around The Vermin Lord and his second-in-commands! I thought it was an awesome idea, so I pitched it to my players. The group chose neither idea, but instead opted to play the Count (now Countess) of Fire and her friends who betrayed her. We have two guys and two girls playing: Eric, Julio, Maria, and Martha. We didn't actually get the Beliefs and Instincts written up because all the players are first-timers to Burning Wheel (although Maria has Mouse Guard experience). By the time we got to Beliefs and Instincts they were all glassy-eyed after four hours of talking and learning how to make characters. We'll make Beliefs and Instincts at the beginning of the next session. Here are the character concepts we've got so  far:

Eric opted to play a wolf that had originally been domesticated, but ate his captors and escaped. He's now horribly biased against all humanoids and wants to eat them all.

Julio decided to play a spider, who had become a decent burglar. He's married to the head of a spider-revolution movement.

Maria chose to play a noble woman who had run away and become a fence so she could avoid an arranged marriage, and is now the head of her house.

And Martha is our future Countess of Fire, who is a con artist (for now). She's currently in a romantic relationship with the head of a large crime ring.

The opening situation is that the criminals have been asked to break into Maria's house and steal an artifact of some sort from it. No one knows what the artifact is, and they've asked me not to tell them. We'll have character names for next time too.