19 June, 2018

The 800 pound Gorilla...and their slightly smaller friends

It's been a busy couple of days, and it doesn't look like slowing down any time soon.

On Saturday, we had Free RPG Day at Games Paradise. I ran a six player session of The Law, which went reasonably well, but I couldn't help but think of all the players the local designers weren't reaching for various reasons.

It wasn't necessarily the location. It was in a game store, the intended destination for gamers looking to experience RPGs, and probably even looking to experience new RPGs. But I think a part of the problem was the lack of profile for Free RPG Day at this time. Most people coming to the store, and to the play area didn't even seem to know about the promotional event. Most had come into our vicinity because we were near the D&D books.

Lets round things off to whole numbers... If there were 60 people who came to browse, maybe half of them only looked at D&D stuff, so we're looking at 30 flat out D&D players, 30 others.

Of those 30 others, half looked at D&D stuff but spread their interest to Pathfinder products as well.

Of the 15 interested in products other than big name d20 derivatives, most clung to the Shadowrun chunk of the store, or Call of Cthulhu.

So, when it came to the 4 games being offered, the Call of Cthulhu game was clearly the one which drew the most interested players, Savage Worlds next, then the locally produced independent games. But even though we were offering games there and then, it felt a bit like fighting over the scraps left behind by the big games... even though there was no physical presence of someone running one of those games.


More often than not, I heard people say something in the vein of "are you running D&D?" to which there would be some kind of response indicating that some locally produced games were on offer... which then led to disappointment. I was feeling like a takoyaki specialist chef at a Japanese restaurant where most people came to purchase sushi or occasionally sashimi, then would walk away with nothing when those two options weren't available.

It's a multi-part struggle.

How do we get new gamers into the hobby? How do we get them not to be stuck in the D&D quagmire to explore the other vistas on offer? OSR offers them something similar to, but not quite, D&D... plenty of other games try to draw the crowds from LARP, miniatures, or computer games with hybrid offerings and varying degrees of success. Then there those games that just try to cannibalize the existing market with their claims of superiority, but requirement of prior knowledge before they can be properly played. I try to create games that lure new people to the hobby, but how successful that is...I'm not sure.


14 June, 2018

Grids





Works in progress

12 June, 2018

Discount Link

This coming weekend, I've put a couple of discounts on some Vulpinoid Studios products over on RPGNow/DrivethruRPG. It's a part of the "Irregular Birthday Sale", where some years I remember to discount stuff, and some years I'm too busy and forget about it. It's also partly a response to Free RPG Day being held on the weekend of my birthday.

The first product being discounted this year is The Law, which will have it's PDF reduced to a dollar. 

Here's the link. (It will only be active on the weekend of June 16th-17th, 2018)

The second product to be reduced will be the Ghost City Raiders Starter Bundle. This pack of PDFs contains the core rules, ten character types and ten scenarios, with a total individual sale value of $22, it normally sells for $10, but for the weekend will also be marked down to a single dollar.

Here's the Ghost City Raiders link. (It will also only be active over this coming weekend)

In previous years when I've put forward promotions like these, less than half a dozen people have taken advantage of them, we'll see how it goes this year. 

10 June, 2018

200 Word Reviews (Part 3 - 41-60)

Because I'm running behind on these reviews, here's another batch for today. At an average of 5-10 minutes or so reading through each of these, then composing my thoughts and writing them up, it takes about 2 solid hours to write each batch of 20. When I've got other things to do around the house as well, that can extend to 4-5 hours, so I don't think I'll be able to write up more than one batch of 20 each day.  

Entrant
Name
Premise
Rules
Definition
Agenda
Coherence
Total
41
The Gulf Between Them – Star King West
1
1
0
3
3
8
42
Revenant – Adriano Bompani
1
1
2
1
1
6
43
My Brother’s Keeper – Chris Krueger
1
2
2
3
2
10
44
Sete – Drink in the Apocalypse – Leandro Lisboa
2
2
2
1
2
9
45
Chance Goodbyes – Michael Blatherwick
3
2
2
3
3
13
46
Spaghetti Pitch – Avital Lubin
3
2
0
3
3
11
47
Mongols and Manticores – Lucas Hald
3
2
2
2
2
11
48
Scenari’Odds’ Fast paced scenario solving rpg – John Bryant
1
2
1
2
2
8
49
Don’t Split Up – Eli Eaton
2
2
0
3
1
8
50
The Whole Potato, All At Once – Dylan Scott
1
2
0
0
0
3
51
An Incomplete Entity – Z Gosck
3
3
2
4
3
15
52
It Came From Studio 9 – Michael Klamerus
2
2
1
3
3
11
53
Warrant – wolfrug
2
3
0
3
2
10
54
One Night – Human and Monsters – Allinic Aflin
2
3
1
2
3
11
55
Multi-Headed Monster – Alchemeister
1
1
1
0
2
5
56
The Doppelganger Effect – Cรดme Martin
3
3
1
2
3
12
57
Story of the Boat People – Lorelei Nguyen
3
2
2
3
4
14
58
Mission Impawssible – Saffire Grant
3
2
0
2
2
9
59
The Cataclysm – B.J.Best
2
3
0
2
2
9
60
Trench – Jason Hughes
3
2
0
2
3
10

The Gulf Between Them
This is almost an “arty, angsty, catharsis freeform” game, but it just manages to avoid that fate.it follows the typical “two characters discuss their innermost feelings” schtick, but adds a third player between them who I capable of twisting the answers given between each other. That adds depth and a point of difference that so many games of this type are missing. Again, it’s a really narrow premise, and I can’t see a whole lot of replay value in it. But it seems interesting as a one-shot.   

Revenant
A multi-player “arty, angsty, catharsis freeform” game. What is it that I don’t like about these games? Probably mostly that they are exposition, they are the epitome of telling not showing, you don’t do anything. It’s all just reflection and lack of interaction with any outside force that might make a real difference to the narrative. This feels just like a hundred games in that genre that have come before…

My Brother’s Keeper
I’m in mixed opinion regarding this one. It feels like the kind of game I don’t like, it has a very railroaded narrative structure, it doesn’t really feel like it does anything innovative within that structure, but there is scope for play. It’s like a closed ended “arty, angsty, catharsis freeform” game. It’s also interesting that the author felt like there was a need to spend twice as many words justifying the game as were spent writing it.

Sete – Drink in the Apocalypse
This is an interesting anomaly, it seems to be competitive in some ways, but there are certain areas where a player with a high attribute cannot be beaten by a character with a low attribute. Since it has to be played in a pub, I’d have included a rule where each drink allows you to increase an attribute by 1. As it stands, it’s a basic (but seemingly flawed) system, it also seems to set a premise but doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. It feels really incomplete.   

Chance Goodbyes
It doesn’t take much to turn a “arty, angsty, catharsis freeform” game into something a bit more interesting. This game does that. A player walks to their doom, but there is a slim chance that they might walk back again. Over the course of 6 encounters (and 15 questions), they make their peace. These questions aren’t force fed, their randomly determined. I don’t know, there just feels like a nicer structure to this game than similar examples of the genre.

Spaghetti Pitch
Throwing spaghetti at a wall to see if it sticks. I like ideas that engage literal translations of things, and I like games that use unusual mechanisms, this certainly fits both those criteria. It fits the criterion of players taking on roles, it also fits the criterion of a game, it just uses both of those aspects in ways I wouldn’t have normally considered. A very narrow scope of play, but it executes things well.

Mongols and Manticores
The manticore player confronts a horde of mongols who want it dead. This is simulated by drawing and eating M&Ms. I don’t see how the Manticore can lose this one. Maybe there needs to be a limitation on the number of M&Ms eaten, or some kind of obstacle or fallout when certain colours are eaten. It feels like it’s almost there, but could do with a bit of playtesting or refinement to really be coherent. Unless of course it’s just an excuse to eat a bag of M&Ms.

Scenari’Odds’ Fast past scenario solving rpg
This one is a bit of a non-sequitur game. It doesn’t seem to particularly facilitate an ongoing narrative between interconnected scenes, but I guess the definitions of portraying a role, and playing a game don’t necessarily require this. Using a timer and rapidly speaking to earn points can be problematic, and I don’t see a way to resolve this, but generally it looks like it’s been thought about. Could do with some refinement.

Don’t Split Up
Arbitrarily, a group of players roll dice. Whoever rolls lowest in each round is eliminated, apply a story over that framework. I can see where it’s trying to go, but I’m not really sure it gets there.  

The Whole Potato, All At Once
I guess it’s a bit like a less pleasant version of ‘Spaghetti Pitch’ further up in this batch of reviews. You bite into a potato, and if you swallow it you succeed. If it’s the last bite, you succeed really well and level up…which has no real effect. It’s proposed as a universal system, which means no real premise, no agenda, no method of defining a character. Just sounds like an excuse to watch people eat raw potatoes.

An Incomplete Entity
I like this one. It feels like it would make a good session zero game, defining characters and the world through play. Nothing is known about the characters but they gradually add depth as they encounter situations. It follows a fairly standard attribute plus ability plus 1d10 system to resolve tasks, so it’s reasonably familiar to players who’ve tried a few different game engines. The only thing I think it would be lacking to create a complete game system would be some method for character advancement. As it stands, it seems to do what it promises pretty well.  

It Came From Studio 9
Another movie interpretation of PrimeTime Adventures (see “What’s my Motivation?” earlier). Players take on the roles of people behind the scenes, discussions are had, then a pair of dice are rolled. There’s no real connection between the whether the players agree that a scene is successful compared to whether or not the dice agree. A few scenes are used to determine whether the whole movie is successful, a bomb, or so bad that it becomes a cult classic. There’s some good ideas in it, but I think it needs a bit more work.   

Warrant
Ostensibly a game about bounty hunters claiming warrants, everyone basically gets three cards and matches their cards against the rest of a deck. If the players card is higher, they catch the bounty. The game is basically functional without any playing of roles, but I’m not sure how easy it would be to get those high ranked cards if the players had a bad start with their hands… and I similarly think that it’s a bit arbitrary that whoever gets the best hand at first will basically win the game.     

One Night – Human and Monsters
This one’s a bit of a minimalist social deduction game. Sort of… but it looks like the actual social deduction bits have been left out. Players define their characters, and a random one is a monster. Then the rolls from the GM eliminate character hit points, and eventually characters, but there are bits of this part that feel left out. Maybe I’ve just read too many games today, and I’m just missing something.  

Multi-Headed Monster
This is really a game of GM fiat, where everyone plays a single head of a multi headed monster, and has a randomly determined pool of energy points that they spend to overcome specific tasks. No die rolls, I think, it’s a bit confusing here. Maybe you get 3 dice to roll in any scene, then need to eat to reclaim dice.  There’s nothing about difficulty numbers or what die rolls mean. This one does need a lot more work.

The Doppelganger Effect
I was thinking ‘Orphan Black’, but it’s probably more Jet Li’s ‘The One’ using a system that’s similar to the infamous ‘Dread’ using the Jenga tower. I can see this really working for a chaotic narrative about phase shifting hijinx, I certainly can’ see it working for something too dark and serous, especially given the random tables that have been offered.

Story of the Boat People
Here’s another political one, especially political as an Australian where ‘boat people’ have been a political hot potato for the past decade and a half. This is another one of those bleak games, I wouldn’t quite go so far at to pigeon-hole it into my “arty, angsty, catharsis freeform” category, but it’s close. Player take turns telling stories of their homeland, the worst storyteller is cannibalised. After a round of storytelling a die is rolled, a when three 6s have been rolled, the boat reaches a promised land. But this basically means that a minimum of 3 players will be cannibalised, and probably everyone. No idea what happens when only one person is left. A few more words would probably go a long way here.  

Mission Impawssible
I’m just imagining this transposed to ferrets instead of chihuahuas. You basically need tokens to overcome obstacles, you get tokens by getting into trouble in one way or another. There are three predefined scene, but there’s nothing to say how many tokens are needed to get through these scenes so that means a hefty amount of GM fiat…except that it’s designated a “GMless story game”, I think there needs to be something here to focus play a bit more.  

The Cataclysm
Another game where high card wins, and the roles played don’t really matter, so it fits more into the storytelling parlour game genre. I like the idea of using a tarot deck to describe the story of a world changing event, but I’m noticing a lot of elimination games in this year’s entrants, and nothing about what players do once they’ve been eliminated from proceedings. There’s a lot of gaps in this one.

Trench
Angsty, dealing with emotional events, single player eliminated every turn… this is a mix of everything that I’m seeing again and again, but at least this time we’ve been given a description of what players do when they are eliminated. I can see how this sort of game might be appealing to a certain crowd of people, certainly as a one-off session at a convention, but I don’t think it would get much play here. It’s better written than some similar games, a hence hasn’t been give overly critical scores.

200 Word Reviews (Part 2 - 21-40)

When I started writing these reviews, they were organised on the 200 Word RPG site by the time the submissions arrived. They have now shifted to alphabetical order. I started by writing the games in the first column, or at least the first 200 games, so I'll keep working my way through that listing. Once I've worked through those, I'll probably do the rest according to their current alphabetical listing.

Entrant
Name
Premise
Rules
Definition
Agenda
Coherence
Total
21
Please Silence Your Cell Phones – Jack Rosetree
1
2
0
1
1
7
22
Transmogrified Creatures Save The Day! – Daniel D.
2
3
2
2
2
11
23
Be A Cat – VL Darling
2
2
0
3
2
9
24
Have You Heard This One Before?
1
2
0
4
3
10
25
Empathy Test – J.D.
4
3
2
3
3
15
26
These are Animals – James Wallis
3
2
0
1
2
8
27
Ghost of a Chance – Ed Jones
3
2
0
3
2
10
28
Irrlicht – A Will-o’-the-Wisp Charade RPG – ms. werepug
4
3
1
2
2
12
29
How did we drift this far apart? – Ville Pelkoen
1
1
2
1
0
5
30
America’s Got Gender – Samara Hayley Steele
3
2
2
2
1
10
31
Leaving the Station – Vincent Perez
3
3
1
2
3
12
32
Break the state maschine (106 chars/line!) - mherzog
2
3
0
2
3
10
33
Masters of the Lair – Andreas Timel
3
3
0
2
3
11
34
Day at the Planet – Emily Savidge
2
2
0
2
2
8
35
Bad Bishop – Patrick O’Leary
4
3
0
4
3
14
36
IZomby – Sarah Zeiter
3
3
1
2
3
12
37
Take What You Want: A Game of Heists – Isaiah Stankowski
2
3
2
2
2
11
38
Land of Milk and Honey – Matthew Evans
3
3
2
4
2
14
39
I Was Once A Mighty Mountain – Drew Besse
1
2
2
0
1
6
40
Nutty Racers – Tom Schilling
4
2
1
3
3
13

Please Silence Your Cell Phones
Interesting novelty that once again makes a curious set of parameters for a scene rather than a full game. There is no differentiation of characters here, no real goal to the game, not even really a scenario provided , just a set of restrictions on a scene, and then…GO. So yes, it another one of “those” games.  

Transmogrified Creatures Save The Day!
Here’s a bit of kooky fun. Players portray townsfolk transmogrified into an assortment of strange creatures who then have to get past similarly transmogrified obstacles (each defined by two playing cards). All players get a pool of moxie, and players can loan moxie to one another if someone needs help, and they think the action undertaken is good enough to succeed. The condensed word count mean a few bits aren’t clear, but there’s enough here to point toward a solid game.

Be A Cat
As someone who owns a cat (and a dog, a duck, and currently 11 ferrets) this looks like an interesting game. It is the nature of cats that there doesn’t need to be a grand end goal, and I guess this game reflects this. Nothing really connect the actions or narrative to the dice rolls, so it ends up basically as an exercise of random happenings until everyone decides to stop playing.

Have You Heard This One Before?
I actually don’t mind this one, but the marking rubric knocks it down because it’s a simple concept without a lot of depth, and doesn’t do a lot of the things I’d expect in a game. I guess it’s a bit “Baron Munchausen” in that stories are told and players are trying to one-up each other with their narrative interjections, my biggest problems are that it all seems a it vague, and you’d have to set a lot of external ground rules before playing the game.  

Empathy Test
Says it’s inspired by Blade Runner, I get the feeling of the back end analysts monitoring the hosts in the Westworld TV series (and that’s a good thing). It’s all very procedural, and I think I’m going to have to re-read it a couple of times to get a better gist of what’s happening, and probably play through it a couple of times to fully grok it. Again it’s a very specific session idea, for two players, so it’s narrow in scope. But at least it feels like a game where roles are being portrayed, and all the interconnections between narrative and die outcomes seems to be generally present.  

These are Animals
Conversation have indicated that there are a higher than normal number of games with a political message in them. This is probably the first distinct one of those that I’ve come across. A die is rolled and hidden, it has on effect on play. It’s all about one player making another player uncomfortable, it always has a bleak ending. Again it’s art for art’s sake, and blatant political posturing, more than anything else.

Ghost of a Chance
I want to like this one more, but again it’s very vague doesn’t really offer a challenge, and is very reliant on group fiat. There are powers, and descriptions of how they manifest, but not what they do or how they can be used. It’s all up to you. You might as well not have rules. It sets an interesting premise, but I need more than just a premise for a game to be considered complete.

Irrlicht – A Will-o’-the-Wisp Charade RPG
A three-way struggle between Players, Irrlicht, and GM… which is clever. The Irrlicht may be good or evil, but the players don’t know. The players explore a dungeon area defined by a chessboard, moving across it and encountering challenges that may or may not be related to the Irrlicht. I’d really like to see this one fleshed out a bit more, perhaps with a wider range of obstacle ideas, some depth to the characters (both players and Irrlicht), and just generally…more. But it feels like the kernel to a good game.

How did we drift this far apart?
Arty angsty catharsis freeform again. No rules beyond a series of questions to ask one another, yes, you are both playing roles, no it’s not really a game. No real ending, you just stop when both players feel it is time. It’s all a bit of an exercise in futility… sorry, I’ve seen this before, and I have no idea why the same idea is constantly rehashed.  

America’s Got Gender
Interesting idea, and it’s another one of those with a distinct political bias. I like the idea that it’s all about defining identity, I think it’s a clever shorthand to use another game completely between rounds of this game to determine the outcome of rounds, but there is no real connection between those other games and this one to make a coherent whole (especially when those other games are chosen arbitrarily). Overall, nice ideas, but doesn’t quite feel there yet.

Leaving the Station
From the name, I thought this was going to be one of those “arty, angsty, catharsis freeform” games again. I was kind of right, but at least this one has elements of game play in it, and a bit of structure… so that’s a step in the right direction. I like that there are defined roles, everyone gets a chance n those roles, and everyone contributes to the final outcome of the story. There’s a lot of freedom for players to flesh out the world, it could really work well as a starting point for John Harper’s Ghost Lines.     

Break the state maschine (106 chars/line!)
Opening this explains the title…it really needs to be displayed at 106 character per line…so let me get back to you once I’ve opened it in the right format.

Alright…I’m back.

Whoa. There seems to be a lot of depth and complexity to this one, Perhaps too much for 200 words because there feels like a lot of allusion to certain ideas that might be inherently understood by the author but need a bit more word count to fully make clear. There’s a vibe to it, a cyberpunk rebellious attitude underlying it, and a bit of scope to allow the players to flesh out the world. But besides rebellion, and public attitude to the actions defining that rebellion, it feels like there’s a big chunk of dead air here. It feels like the kind of game I should love, but it’s not quite there.

Masters of the Lair
So, you inhibit a dungeon…. Um, what?? I think the characters inhabit the dungeon. Other than that it seems like a pretty solid game. Players portray monsters sharing a communal dungeon/lair, taking turns to lead raids against one another and outside forces. A simple die mechanism determines the  general outcome of those raids, along with who narrates and who adds in complications to be overcome. It might help to have a way to define the characters a bit more, and there’s no real end goal, but a solid bit of fun.

Day at the Planet
This is basically playing Kal-El (Superman) in his Clark Kent persona during a day at the Daily Planet. It’s another of those interesting one-off scenario games, with no real end goal or point when the game is considered over unless the Superman analogue loses. I’d probably throw in a 10 task limit for the day, then have the players swap roles, perhaps building the shared world between the actions of each player trying to do good in the world while remaining undercover.   

Bad Bishop
Players set up a chess game that is already underway, each of the pieces represents a member of a family, and the rules of chess dictate the way the story unfolds as these families struggle against one another. It’s a clever meta-game to apply over a chess match, fleshing out a world and a shared narrative with each move. It feels like something that should have been done before, but I haven’t quite seen it done in a way as elegant as this. The only down side is that the moves impact the fiction, but the fiction has no impact on the moves.   

IZomby
This is a solid, simple little game. Exactly the kind of thing I expect from the contest. Players have roles defined in some way, they tell a story with basic rules guiding action outcomes. Nothing particularly new here, but it’s all tied together in a basic coherent package that facilitates a variety of play situations.  

Take What You Want: A Game of Heists
I can see how games like Blades in the Dark are infecting the wider design community in entrants like this. Players create characters who conduct heists, then develop a shared world in which their job will occur, before starting the process of pulling off the caper. General rules seem pretty vague, but an experience group should be able to muddle through without many real problems.

Land of Milk and Honey
A political battle between communists and capitalists, it feels like it’s during the great depression, but my American history is a bit rusty. Either way, it’s a narrow premise, but seems to be interesting. Since you only roll one or two dice, and only succeed on a 6+ it all feels a bit bleak, but that might be a part of the intended theme. Either way it’s got an end point, and a good procedure for getting there… so most of the necessary elements for game play are present.

I Was Once A Mighty Mountain
Yep…nope.
Another “arty, angsty, catharsis freeform” games. Tell a story about a rock. What it was…what it is…what it will be.

Nutty Racers
While a few of the games I’ve lamented over are all role and no playing, this one is all playing with no real role. It’s a race game where players move forward by describing how they move and overtake one another. I can see it being a wild and frantic party game, perhaps even successfully transferred to a full on board game format.