10 June, 2013

Phenomenon 2013 Con Report 1

Loose 4 Player Game

Generally, the loose version of the game works just like most other role-playing games…set up a situation, draw tokens, allocate and see how the results feed back into the story.

This group showed that “a different coloured token for different types of action” is a fairly intuitive system. I didn’t get to strict on the way this was interpreted through play, and because I wasn’t too strict on the rules, an odd form of emergent play developed at the table.

The emerging mechanism stated that regardless of the token drawn, as long as it wasn’t white the action basically succeeded, but each colour imparted a certain flavour toward the success or the sacrifice. A black success token could be enhanced through relationships and equipment, but a coloured success token could not. Red successes meant that the successful action required a degree of violence to accomplish, green successes revolved around an improvement or some kind of constructive element in the story, while blue successes simply showed how a new perspective or insight changed the situation; in each case the player narrated how this took place.

Conversely, each coloured token specifically flavoured the sacrifices as well (so the emergent play mechanisms followed the core rules as written even though I wasn’t too strict with their enforcement). A green sacrifice saw an opponent grow in strength, a blue sacrifice saw the tables turn toward the opponent, and a red sacrifice saw the player weaken.

The process of token drawing was pretty fast, at least as fast as many dice rolling games I’ve been a part of. For tokens we used poker chips, they were drawn randomly from old rusty metal cans. Each player drew three tokens, plus one per core trait they could justify, then distributed the most advantageous three tokens among the three categories of success, sacrifice and story. The remainder were deposited back into the can before drawing tokens for narrative traits (or drawing extra tokens to go straight into the sacrifice pool when facing higher difficulties). The whole process took under 30 seconds (while lots of die rolling games take longer than this due to calculating modifiers, referencing tables, and similar complications), the time consuming part came from narrating the results back into the story…but this made the story feel more driven by the actions of the characters and the choices of the players.        

In this game we also went with the notion that equipment and relationships simply grant extra degrees of success (while relationships opposed to the situation automatically cancelled a success or applied an extra degree of sacrifice). I like this idea for relationships because it makes the game more focused around these…but I think for future sessions I’ll be pulling the equipment back to the level of positive narrative traits.

There weren’t a lot of narrative traits handed out during the course of this session, maybe a dozen in total across the three players. Instead we made successes contribute toward eating away the GM’s pool of imbalance tokens. Every time I forced the players to make an awareness check, or avoid the worst of some incoming damage, I’d strip a point from the pool, and every time they made headway in the story, I took away a token or two. This kept the game moving quickly…there were 3 distinct acts (each lasting roughly a day of game time), each act was divided into at least half a dozen scenes (each of which resolved over the course of an hour or so of game time), and each scene typically involved three or four challenges. If we take off half an hour at the start of the session for explaining the game, then allowing players to choose and read through their characters, there were probably 70 or more challenges (15-20 per player). Spending the time to write out traits would have slowed things down, I’m not sure if this would have been for the better or worse.

Without many traits floating around it also meant that there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for players to call out one another’s negatives in a given situation. But, on the positive side, the players role-played to this anyway (eg. The player whose character had a dislike for Nomads made sure to steer clear of the scene when everyone else went to discuss an alliance with the Nomad encampment, the inhuman mutant character made sure to say out of sight or simply look like hired muscle when introductions to pure-blooded humans were underway). The lack of negative narrative traits to call on meant players had less opportunity to gain edge tokens, but a lack of positive narrative traits meant that the players didn’t have to spend edge tokens to keep them in play. It basically balanced out…the only thing it didn’t allow for was the drawing of new Wayfarer Glyphs on one another. Since new Wayfarer Glyphs are a pretty important part of the ongoing story structure, I’ll need to make sure there is an easier way for players to call on narrative traits during later sessions. Perhaps some index cards with clear writing on them that everyone on the table can read…or maybe in free-flowing low trait games I’ll just award edge points to players who act accordingly with their own negative traits.

One down side from the preparation work was the size of the scenario sheet. The scene points were simply too small to put my intended imbalance tokens on. So I basically used the scenario sheet as a guide to storyline and little more…all of my imbalance tokens were used from a central pile (the way I typically run a game of FUBAR).

As a structured version of FUBAR, Walkabout works. It is clearly a direct evolution of the mechanisms in that game, honed toward a specific style of play. Playing a far stricter version of the rules might push it even further toward the notions I had originally envisioned, but the loose version played in this first session was certainly playable and enjoyable.
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