Archive for August, 2009

Game Chef 2009 Website is Live

August 30, 2009

Check it out. I spent a lot of work on it and still have a lot more to do tomorrow before the challenge launches for good.

Murderland: Pies 31-32

August 29, 2009

31. Mo Turkington – Crow

Premise: The two players take on the roles of God and Crow emulate the poetical interactions of those two figures in Ted Hughes Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow.

Thoughts: A neat concept, very clearly written, and probably the prettiest-looking document in the whole contest. I’m not familiar with Hughes’ crow poems, but the ones included are fantastic and, honestly, remind me a bit of Vincent for some reason, something about their theological perspective, I think. I can definitely see why Mo was drawn to them. Mechanically, the only suggestion I have is trying to come up with a less intrusive mechanic for Mechanism #2, which allows one player to request taking over for another. While the repetition idea is cool, my dissatisfaction with the “stealing narration” mechanic in Once Upon a Time (where you play a card that matches something the other player said) makes me want something that doesn’t interrupt the ongoing flow. Maybe a hand gesture (or poke) that shows you want to take over. Also, I imagine that, as short as these poems are, taking over for the other player may not even be necessary, assuming your fellow player isn’t a narcissist, rambling on forever. I also imagine this game would play much better if both players had read Hughes’ Crow relatively recently, since I was hoping for more concrete suggestions on how to approach playing God or Crow. On the whole, though, a nice addition to the growing number of two-player structured narration games.

Conclusion: Baked.

32. Nathan Paoletta – Witness the Murder of Your Father and Be Ashamed, Young Prince

Premise: The players play a group of princes gathering to determine how their father was murdered and who the next heir will be. By drawing tiles out of a bag, resources are allocated according to seniority. These resources are then spent to negotiate and support or dispute other brothers’ accounts of the murder. In the end, if consensus cannot be made about the murder and the heir, an endgame begins that can result in a split, a victory, or the destruction of the kingdom. Additionally, one of the princes has been secretly consecrated to Crow, the god of trickery, and if he’s named heir the rest of the princes lose, as if no heir was named.

Thoughts: The premise reminds me of the beginning of Gaiman’s Stardust — itself a reflection of Nine Princes in Amber — mixed with Shadows Over Camelot (“Mordred!”), while the mechanics are a bit like Shreyas’ Mist-Robed Gate. While I’m a little intimidated by reading through the list of tile mechanics, since there are quite a number of different things you can do with them, I have no doubt that their uses would be much clearer in play, once they start moving around and you see what the emergent strategies are. I also very much like that there isn’t a sole winner in the game. If the brother you want to be king wins, you win too, basically, unless he happens to be secretly consecrated to Crow. That makes for a much more interesting and cooperative set of tactics than simply trying to win yourself. Also, it allows the traitor prince to “bide his time” by joining the winning side, not having to reveal himself but probably dooming the kingdom in the long run. Of all the various endgame mechanics I’ve seen in the contest then, this is probably my favorite, just because of the diversity of interesting outcomes and how none of them necessarily railroad the narrative (aside from the doom one, I guess), but allow the players to negotiate it a bit after the final result is reached.

Conclusion: Baked.

Murderland: Pies 26-30

August 28, 2009

26. Stephen Bretall – Murderland Bites!

Premise: The characters are infected with a zombifying virus and must find the cure and escape from the facility before they are incurably infected and picked apart by ravenous crows. The end game is basically a ruthless series of choices as to how everyone will end up getting killed or killing each other.

Thoughts: Wow. I can’t imagine any characters actually living through this game. It’s remorseless. Your best bet seems to be aiming for swallowing the super-virus strain and becoming a zombie vampire lord. But if the players then choose to blow up the facility — and come on, somebody will — it’s TPK city, most likely. Still, should be a fun time. I very much like the way it uses physical objects to represent the number of bullets you have and how far the rot has advanced. That’s clever, but honestly seems like an end-run around the “no writing things down” requirement, since it would be much easier to jot a few notes. I’d have to get Eric to run the numbers on the game to see if it’s really as lethal as I suspect but, unlike a couple other entries, even if there’s no chance of survival, I can imagine really having some fun with this.

Conclusion: Baked.

27. Simon Brake – One for Sorrow

Premise: A competitive card-based storytelling game, similar to Once Upon a Time, using a standard deck of playing cards. Players try to play all their cards, based on a series of rules, providing appropriate narration for each card played based on a rhyme that gives each card a specific meaning.

Thoughts: This would work way better with a custom deck of cards or scraps of paper with the meanings printed on them. I would have to play this game many, many times before narrating the meanings of individual cards would come naturally with having to look up the meanings. Also, the description of the rules that govern when I can play what cards is not written very clearly, so I’d have to sit down and write out my own more explicit guidelines. Also my experiences playing Once Upon a Time leads me to be skeptical of games of this style, which often encourage players to create very jumpy, random, lame narratives in order to win. I like the rhyming poem a lot, though. I just wish it was attached to something I felt more confident about playing.

Conclusion: Warm.

28. David Donachie – A Parliament of Rooks

Premise: The players play rooks meeting in parliament to decide who is innocent and who deserves to be eaten. The rooks take turns prosecuting randomly generated victims’ cases while each victim is potentially defended by one or more other parliamentarians. Each rook has a limited number of votes to spend either for or against the various victims and whoever successful prosecutes victims with the highest collective value (and eats them) wins and is named Lord High Chancellor or something.

Thoughts: This is a really cool structure for a game, one I’ve never seen before. There are a few lawyer games out there — like, uh, Sea Dracula — but I’ve never seen one where you actually play a legislative body. Granted, in this case, it’s a legislative body of murderous birds, but still. My main concern is that the dearth of votes — 10 per rook — will stifle the debate, forcing players to save their votes for prosecuting their victims and only leaving them with minimal opposition from the rest of the parliament. I suspect that at least twice that many votes, 20 per player, would be more effective at generating some more interesting tactics. Still, that kind of thing could be worked out with just a bit of playtesting.

Conclusion: Baked.

29. David Wendt – Raven, Wolf, and Cow: Tales from the Murderland Cafe

Premise: The players play the Norns, except that they run a cafe in the middle of nowhere. They make prophesies about the various customers in their diner, determining which ones are true by a weighted voting system. At the end, the Norn with the most true prophecies narrates what happens to the patron after they leave the cafe.

Thoughts: Seems solid enough, but I’m not sure why I care about these random people we just made up and what happens to them. Plus, the Norns themselves aren’t really interesting as characters but basically serve as avatars for the players. So in the end, I’m not sure where you invest in the fiction as a player, which is my main stumbling block here. Sure, you hope that the prophecies that are true end up being the most interesting ones, but I can imagine just getting invested in the customer’s life when they leave the diner and the game ends. If there was a sense in the text that that was the point, building this fleeting connection to a random person in a diner over a bottomless cup of coffee, that would be cool, but I didn’t get any of that.

Conclusion: Warm, but maybe baked enough if you can create really compelling content from the get-go.

30. Elizabeth Shoemaker – Murderland

Premise: Players play the classic Cluedo characters, except that they are all in trouble with the mob and, worse, are trapped in a house together with a bunch of weapons, a bad containing 2 million in cash, and are told that only two people can remain standing at the end of an hour. So the players essentially played a dark, twisted version of Cluedo (or Clue, as it’s called in the US) and try to kill other characters and end up with the money.

Thoughts: Very cool. Obviously the premise and hack of an classic board game are fantastic. Rules-wise, I have a couple of concerns. Players can use weapons or other resources to steal the victory die during the back-and-forth exchange of fighting, but it’s not clear to me 1) what happens when both players want to spend resources in this way, 2) why you would steal the die early in a fight, and 3) what good it does you to steal the die even near the end of the fight, if there’s still at least one exchange left giving you a 50% chance of ultimately ending up with it. So, right now, just looking at the rules, it seems like weapons don’t actually do anything, which is worrisome. Also, the endgame involves the first killed player serving as GM, basically, and secretly giving the bag of money to whichever character finds it first, without the other players knowing. But I really wish there were instructions in the rules about how you do that. Like maybe there would be slips of paper on which are written “You find nothing + You find nothing + … You find the money,” which the GM hands out anytime someone searches a room. Otherwise, secretly allocating the money seems very hard. Finally, the game is artificially cut short after 1 hour of playtime and my sense is, especially running the game the first time, everyone will die because the victory conditions won’t be met, since it will take time to get used to the rules and run enough fights so that most characters are dead. Two hours might be more feasible, I think. Still, definitely a game I would be excited to play, assuming I could figure out how spending resources during fights it supposed to work.

Conclusion: Browned, maybe baked if some clarity can be gained on resource use.

Murderland: Pies 21-25

August 27, 2009

21. Danny Ozbot – If a Raven Calls Your Name

Premise: Players play townsfolk in a fairy tale village, describe their daily activities, and secretly picking a number of tokens from a pile. Then the raven player names one character and challenges them, rolling a die and potentially a) being rebuffed, b) taking the tokens, or c) killing the character, depending on the value of the die roll and number of tokens. Players can team up before the roll, however, pooling their tokens. The raven wins when they have most of the tokens. The players win if they rebuff the raven three times.

Thoughts: While the overall concept is neat, this game is mechanically problematic. This is what I would do to win this game: always pick 3 trinkets, always team up with the other players, and thus only lose to the raven on roll of 6. I don’t mind the lightness of the tactics involved here, so long as there are multiple interesting choices to make or, alternately, if what seem like tactical choices don’t ultimately matter. But here, they have a direct effect on whether you win or lose and there are clearly some strategies (actually, one strategy) that is unquestionably superior. I’m afraid that’s likely to scuttle whatever else is going on here, which is too bad.

Conclusion: Warm.

22. Jason Dettman – Murderland

Premise:A police procedural in which one player is the murderer and the other players are investigators. Coins are flipped and spent to add descriptive details and bits of evidence.

Thoughts: Reading through the rules, I honestly wasn’t that excited, but the example of play showed very clearly that play could be super-fast and fairly gripping. I definitely want to try it out now. Still, I think this game would really sing if the “murderer” player just represented the evidence / lay thereof and no one at the table could actually say for sure who the murderer was. The investigators would ultimately decide who they will charge with the crime and either convict someone or not, but the “truth” of the crime would never be revealed. That would be fascinating, I imagine, and very much like what actual police work is like, where you try not to think about your doubts after you’ve convicted someone, because you have to move on to the next case.

Conclusion: Baked.

23. Ben Wray – Murderland: Quest for the Sphinx of Quartz

Premise: Something like a deconstruction of a standard fantasy adventure game. The characters, with traits that don’t matter, adventure through the Murderlands fighting monsters and gaining Glory (which doesn’t matter), and make a random roll at the end to see who survives the trail of murderous crows that follows their bloody wake.

Thoughts: Pretty clever as a little social experiment, to see how far the trappings of a standard RPG will carry you. Answer: right to your destruction. Everything that happens in the game is essentially random and inconsequential, but it doesn’t necessarily appear that way until you get to the end. The only thing not covered in the rules is… what happens if there are only two characters left and they both are eliminated? I assume that it’s a Total Party Kill, but Ben doesn’t say. Honestly, as a game, this is pretty terrible, but as an activity, something to mess around with and hopefully have an interesting reaction to… I really like it. But the majority of the players can’t read the game beforehand, I don’t think, unless they are all willing to embrace the deconstructed randomness. Even then, I don’t think it would have the full impact unless one or two players were innocent in the whole affair and felt really cheated or baffled at the end.

Conclusion: Baked, but you would probably only play it once.

24. Dave Cleaver – Three Ravens

Premise: Three ravens take turns trying to overcome the three obstacles — the hounds, the hawk, and the lady – that guard the body of a fallen knight that the ravens would like to eat. No matter what, the ravens will overcome the obstacles; the only thing in question is which ravens will be around at the end of the game to eat the knights body (potentially all three, 2, 1, or none).

Thoughts: This is a neat little exercise, reminding me a bit of John Harper’s Mustang, though predating it by several months. The only thing that makes me squint a bit is the artificiality of the structure, where one raven goes off to face one of the three challenges and then returns. While it has a storybook quality, it doesn’t feel natural to me and makes the most important part of the game, the confrontation, feel very alone and isolating. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s the theme or what but there’s a definite sense of loneliness in many of these games, which is interesting to watch. I do wish there were a few more details about the challenges themselves. What are the hounds like? What is the lady like? Otherwise, I would worry that the crows interactions with them would default to being similar, with the challenges trying to drive the birds away from the body.

Conclusion: Browned, but maybe baked enough if you have a group of players who are all “on” and strongly engaged.

25. Logos Seven – Thought and Memory

Premise: Players play ravens picking over dead bodies, gathering as many dice or cards from the table as they can. If the other players are greedy or impolite, you can call down Odin’s wolves, Geri and Freki, on them. Once the wolves are in play, you can trigger the endgame, in which players give each other gifts and total up the final score to determine the two winners.

Thoughts: I like the arbitrary nature of both gathering dice and invoking the wolves on others. That makes for an interesting bit of social maneuvering. However, I honestly don’t get the endgame at all. At first, I thought gift giving was another bit of social maneuvering, where you try to give away as little as possible while earning as many dice from others as you can. But the rules aren’t really set up to allow that, as far as I can see. Also, the giving of special gifts, such as Fenrir’s Will (death) is confusing and I’m not sure when or how you do that. Ultimately, I can’t see how the two halves of the game, the gathering trinkets and the gift giving, go together, at least from the rules as they currently stand. It seems like the arbitrary removal of one raven from the game is so powerful as to undermine the rest of it.

Conclusion: Warm, but maybe browned with a bit more explanation of giving Fenrir’s Will.

Unit Badge

August 26, 2009


I wanted something that looked German military and dieselpunk without it evoking Nazis. Inspired by this crest of a Franco-German joint military unit, this is what I came up with.


August 25, 2009


“Für Wotan und Walhall!”

Every Five Years, A New Term

August 12, 2009

There’s this thing that happens where, every five years, someone coins a new term for roleplaying or “the good kind of roleplaying that I like, not that other bad stuff.” While people coin new terms all the time, it’s on this cycle of 5-or-so years that a new one actually gains some traction.

White Wolf had “storytelling” and “storytelling games.”

Some folks have appropriated Ron’s “narrativism” to use in this way, as a stick to beat other kinds of games with (and some folks have blamed Ron for doing this too, which I don’t think is quite fair).

Clinton’s “story games” has a certain following.

And now there’s Willem’s “storyjamming.”

In all of these cases, I get the sense that people are trying to broaden conceptions of what roleplaying is or could be by narrowing them. For example, if we call roleplaying “storytelling” and only talk about really story-centric philosophies of play, that excludes all the game / strategy components of traditional roleplaying which WW originally considered off-putting and less interesting to their target audience. In effect, you’re convincing folks that you’ve carved out a corner of roleplaying where everything is consistently enjoyable, or at least more so than the rest of the hobby. Or that you’ve invented a new hobby entirely that avoids all the problems associated with roleplaying.

And, inevitably, while these new terms may work wonders with new audiences and the target audience you’re trying to attract by jettisoning everything else, they’re mostly going to earn derision from most general roleplaying audiences because the new terms really are more than a bit pretentious, aren’t they? It’s like reading the back cover text of those games that say “completely revolutionary!” and then have you rolling stat + skill. We’re all wondering why you’re patting yourself on the back for doing essentially the same thing that we’re doing.

Ultimately, I think the lesson here is — language and terms are not universal and you can’t expect all audiences to appreciate them. Sure, use your new terms for your newcomers and target audiences but don’t expect them to appeal to everyone else who doesn’t necessarily want to buy into a separatist (“we’re doing something different!”) or elitist (“we’re doing something better!”) perspective on the roleplaying that they do or aspire to do. Certainly, roleplaying is really a bunch of rather different hobbies tied together by a family resemblance, but no new terminology has yet managed to draw lines in the sand and actually split it apart. Instead, the definition of roleplaying continues to get broader.

It’ll believe that folks are actually doing something different when we have a cognates in multiple unrelated languages. I think the closet we have to that is probably “larp.”

Kirby’s Asgard/Valhalla

August 11, 2009

The classic Kirby illustrations of Asgard have the rainbow bridge and everything, basically merging Asgard and Valhalla together into a single sci-fi Kirbytech city.



Kirby's Asgard/Valhalla

August 11, 2009

The classic Kirby illustrations of Asgard have the rainbow bridge and everything, basically merging Asgard and Valhalla together into a single sci-fi Kirbytech city.



Broken Rainbow

August 11, 2009

I think this is the campaign I wanna run next, now that I’m in Seattle: The Ring Cycle + Last Exile, run using Mouse Guard but borrowing some color from Bliss Stage.

200 years into the retro-future, Götterdämmerung (the twilight of the gods) has arrived. The Bifröst Bridge that connects Valhalla to the mortal world has been shattered, draining all color from the world, causing it to resemble a post-apocalyptic, black-and-white war film circa 1920. The majority of Europe lies either in ruins or underwater, with the remnants divided between a number of competing warlords and their military forces.

A sizable human city has also been erected in the shadow of the floating city of Valhalla, near the shattered remnants of the rainbow bridge. After decades of praying to the Aesir for protection, young women with miraculous strength, speed, and resilience began emerging among the rag-tag mortal inhabitants — in reality, the bastard daughters of Wotan, the rakish, conniving king of the gods, conceived by a dozen different mothers. These new valkyries, the Broken Rainbow Squadron, have rollergirl attitudes, fly on hovercycles, and battle warlord jetfighters, monstrous wolves, and armies of giants in order to protect their home city (and, more importantly as far as Wotan is concerned, Valhalla).

Oh, and they also still capture the souls of the valiant dead and bring them home to Valhalla. But it’s not clear why, exactly. What could Wotan want with all those souls? And will the color ever be brought back into the world?

So, yeah, a wild, dangerous world + suspicious missions sent down from on high + unclear mortality + wandering heroes = Mouse Guard, I think. We’ll see if I can get anyone interested. I’m thinking all-female characters, but there might be a token valiant dead, perhaps.

Deep Freeze

August 5, 2009

Started playing Geiger Counter last night, for the first time in months, with John Harper, Ping, and Ben Robbins. Our premise is an antarctic drilling operation that encounters some ice-caves built by the German military forces in the 1930s. So far the menace is a ghostly, possessing sort of menace with 7 dice (one short of the peak) and none of the main characters have died yet.

We stopped mid-session because it was 10:30 (we started at 7), since we took our leisurely time with prep. Honestly, we probably could have finished in another hour, so it still seems like Geiger can still always finish in one-session, but this’ll be my first multi-session game, so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. I’ve been thinking about whether the game could handle really slow-building stuff like Kirkman’s The Walking Dead or the recent slasher TV series Harper’s Island, but this seems more like a 2-part mini-series or something. It was a bit jarring for me to realign my expectations, pacing wise, that we weren’t going to finish last night, but, honestly, that didn’t occur to me until halfway through the game. I think it’ll be fine, though.

We’ve also been placing dice in locations after the first scene in that new location is over, which seems a natural move since, when you’re framing the scene… you wanna get right to what’s happening. And maybe additional dice need to be established to be in a place before you can roll them? Not sure, but it was interesting to notice.

Human Frailty

August 4, 2009

When brainstorming the premise for a Geiger Counter scenario, it might be helpful to think of everything that happens, plot-wise, as a stage on which humanity’s strengths and failings are performed. Sure, some of the characters will demonstrate capacities that you didn’t know they had, for self-sacrifice, for compassion, for courage, for killer instincts — but still others will demonstrate just how cowardly, selfish, ignorant, stupid, arrogant, and petty humans can be. Sometimes, the same characters may well demonstrate both capacities.

Frequently, the premise itself will be a clear demonstration of human failings: “entrepreneurs breed dinosaurs for an amusement park, sure that nothing could possibly go wrong.” Frequently, human frailties are contrasted with the cold, heartless, savage or even “mechanical” workings of fate, the universe, and the natural world, which humanity arrogantly struggles to control. The deaths of most of the characters in these stories is a form of justice, the proper order of things reasserting itself, crushing humanity for its pride. Watch Titanic again, even. It’s there.