Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Veronica Monsterhearts - Hardboiled Inequality

I've been working on Veronica Monsterhearts for over a year and I haven't had a lot of opportunities to play it. I've had one or two play tests myself, and then Cheyenne ran at Gen Con last year so it's been a lot of theoretical kind of stuff rather than hard physical testing.

That said, something came up with Cheyenne's play test that I feel I really should talk about. An important part of the first session is the Welcome To Blank part of the game, where you build the city that you're going to be playing in. This sections was created because when we did our first play test, one thing that came up was that there was little to care about where the action was taking place. In a noir story, the location is just as much of a character as the players. In Veronica Mars the city of Neptune shapes the narrative in a lot of important ways and so I think it became important that there were some questions that were answered ahead of time. 

The questions that you ask in Welcome to Blank revolve around the city, and why there are large sections of inequality. It also focuses on the corruption of the police and local officials. Both of these are important for a Noir story because they end up creating the circumstances that create the need to go outside what's the "socially acceptable" method of handling problems, which is through the police or the authorities.

Corrupt officials are a standard part of the noir genre. It feels currently prescient with the current focus on police misconduct and the "blue wall" where organizations exist to protect officers regardless of what actions they might have done. It's currently nothing new, when you read Chandler that's one of the reasons why Marlowe decided to be a PI rather than stay a police officer in the 20s. Marlowe felt that the corruption was too much, and he's rather be a PI barely making it through than stand with the police. Through Chandler's novels the police are shown time and time again to be easily bribed, interested only in their immediately benefit, with the few exceptions frequently meeting bad ends. It isn't just the police, but really any authority figure. They have their own agendas, and desire, none of which are part of the public good. This attitude, and these actions, are what makes the detective, or to generalize it further the outlier, necessary. They become the foil against the police, doing what is necessary to bring a sense of justice to their clients that the authorities refuse to do.

This refusal stems from the authority's understanding of inequality. All those in power want to be on the side of the haves rather than the have nots, and will curry favour with those with greater power and influence than themselves. Which brings us to the point that noir stories have a kind of Aristotelian quality to them. They are frequently about people with wealth and power laid low by their own hubris. However, instead of fate or circumstance causing their fall from grace it is the outlier who provides the push that causes the fall.

The outlier's existence is just as that force for retribution. It can be violent like Continental Op in Red Harvest, enduring like Marlowe, subtle like Sam Spade, or the outcast like Veronica in Veronica Mars. It's the inequality in the society that forces people to look to them for justice. That's in part why I was interested in doing a Veronica Mars inspired game. There are many levels of inequality in a high school. There's the same societal inequality reflected in the school, where those with money have a higher social standing than those without. There's also a power imbalance between the students and the teachers, where if there is little recourse and few options for the students who need help from the teachers. That inequality is essential to a kind of hard boiled, noir story that I'm hoping Veronica Monsterhearts can give to people.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Idea Corner - buildyourown World game

In one of those Hey what about this" ideas you get when you're working on something else. The kind of idea you might want to chat about but don't actually have the time to put any effort towards. This is one of those ideas.

It's kind of like a Tabula Rasa World game. You come in, and there's some kind of way to determine what you're going to play. Something to setup the genre, your expectations and what you don't want to see in the game. Then there's going to be some way to define your character, a way describe who they are and what kind of archetype they have. There will probably be some stats too, I think with everything else being so player driven it would be nice to have them done up front so that there is a little less work for the players and the GM, but again it could be nice to have it flexible to be called what you want.

Then you play the game. When it comes time to have someone influence the fiction you come up with the move on the spot. Define it, define the results, and then keep it. If it's a rule you go back to again and again, then it can become a basic move that everyone gets access to. There would also be a way to set it up so that people who go back to using that same move again and again could make it their own move, in their blank playbook.

We could call it *World.

Anyway, it's just a thought.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Veronica Monsterhearts - Back to Work On It

Now that there has been some distance between me and this game, I think I'm going to take a break from Rent's Due and work a little bit more on Veronica Monsterhearts.

What I'm aiming for in v0.3

1. Better wording. I'm going to be looking at all the text and not just the moves and all that.
2. Better move decisions. I do want to look at the moves again, because one of the things that came up during the game that people had some issues with what to do for 7-9, so I've got to clean that up.
3. Keeping the Questions for the City Creation and making that the first session, and making up a first session section.
4. Making some moves that can be used if there's a problem in making a decision.

Or maybe even have that be a 7-9 thing. If you've done messed up, choose one of the moves and roll it. On my second thought it seems a little clunky and fractal (when in doubt refer to a move, which refers to another move, which refers to another move) but it is something to think about.

I think the basic moves are good. I think the handling of the mystery is good. I think I just need to clarify some things.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Chill Talk - Tokens

I know that this isn't going to be scheduled, it's going to be a "when I get around to writing them" but I do still want to talk about why I think Chill is a great horror game, and a great game to run period. There's something that a couple of people I've seen online pooh-pooh, and that is the use of Chill Tokens. The few whining conversations were all about the meta game, like this was some kind of bad thing, like it would remove the players from the game. The reality is that it's a great tool to use to increase the horror for the players.

One of the ways that it helps with the horror is that it provides the players with a visual clue to how things are going. If there are a lot of light tokens, then they're going to take a few more risks since they have the safety net underneath them. They'll feel that they need a particular interest clue, or that they don't want to deal with the repercussions of a low success and a token turn will make all the difference between being okay, and being awesome, or even being okay, and failing.

If you do have players who feel the need to try to keep all the tokens to the light at every single point in time, which does require a fair bit of luck because a botch will cause a token to turn dark. Even then, there are ways within the rules that will get the CM some dark tokens. When the big bad notices the players for the first time in a mission, the CM can add a dark token to the pile. This is when they get noticed, not when the players notice the big bad. If they do something noteworthy, something that gets in the way then drop that token down and watch their eyes widen.

Failing that, have the creatures of the Unknown do nasty horrible things to the players. Even without all the powers of the Evil Way, the vast majority of the time the creatures will easily walk away from a face to face fight. They won't even need to bother to flip tokens to do horrible things. The claws, fangs, and other natural abilities that they have are more than enough to take down a few SAVE envoys and put them near death's door. There's always the possibility that they can flip all the light tokens dark in order to save someone, which is delightful if they've been hoarding them and avoiding spending them for any reason. That's not to setup a CM vs player kind of dynamic, but if the players are "trying to metagame" then they're worried more about the tokens than the creatures in front of them, and this is a way to refocus them.

The how you use the tokens is important as well. When using the tokens, you want to make sure that you're flipping the tokens first. That way the players get the sense of dread first, the idea that something bad is going to happen. There's a sense of horrible anticipation, because Evil Way abilities that require you to turn one, or even worse two, tokens are things that will make your players worry about what's going to happen.

Even if you use the tokens in the interesting ways that they can be used. Splitting up the group, or knocking out pieces of technology that they've become dependent on, or allowing the creature to act in unusual ways. This is the one where you flip the token, and let the players see what you're doing. Tell them that you're flipping the token, draw attention to it, and then wait. You shouldn't make them wait too long, but allow the players rooms to do a few things every time wondering what action is going to trigger what the token was for. It's a great way to ratchet up the tension.

Using the tokens in the wide variety of ways that you can the Chill Tokens allows you to get the most horror out of this fun little mechanic. It's one of the many ways that Chill allows the CM to create an excellent horror experience. Use this tool when playing Chill well, and your players will love you for it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fan Expo 2015 - Panel Schedule

Wow, so Fan Expo this year is all full of panels which I really appreciate. I like con games, but sometimes in Toronto it feels like it's the same people playing the games at Fan Expo. I'll still be around, but not officially running any games. I will have games there though, in case anyone wants to see what's new and what's coming down the pipe.

Panel: Humour in Swords & Sorcery
Time: Friday, 4:45 PM
Location: 705
Description: Can mighty thews and sinister sorcerors be funny?  By
Crom, they certainly can!
Fellow Panelists: Jonathan Lavallee, Jim Zub, Jason Anarchy, Rachel Kahn.

I AM SO LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS AND IT'S THE FIRST PANEL! Seriously you need to check out who is there. We've got a lot of people who have put time effort and energy into thinking about comedy and fantasy. Seriously, By Crom! is one of the best things I have ever read. Even checking out the panels on the site made me laugh and tear up at the same time.

Panel: Publishing your own tabletop game
Time: Friday, 5:45 PM
Location: 705
Description: Do you have a concept for publishing a game? How to get
your game into the hands of customers from prototyping to playtesting
to publishing and distribution.
Panelists: Phil Reed, Jonathan Lavallee, Jason Anarchy

This is one of those standard ones that we do every year. It's a good one to go if you're looking to ask questions about making a tabletop game. We do have all sorts of experience here for analog games, and a little bit on the video side but that's why it's called tabletop games in the panel title.. ^_^

Panel: Pathos and probability curves: Writing tabletop Games
Time: Saturday, 1:15 PM
Location: 703
Description: Do you want to create your own adventure games? Do you
want to help expand existing worlds and ways with your own unique
touches? These panelists will help you learn the secrets of great
game design
Panelists: Jonathan Lavallee, Malcolm Sheppard, Ed Greenwood, Andrew Valkauskas

This is another standard we do every year, it's a fun panel where we get to talk about the weird way we make stuff.

Panel: Getting Started with Tabletop Roleplaying Games
Time: Sunday, 12:15 PM
Location: 703
Description: Wait, do we all need to buy a player's guide? Do I need
miniatures? What's the deal with these dice?  You've wanted to try
tabletop RPGs but don't know where to start! Our panel of experts will
give you the guidance you need.
Panelists: Robin Laws, Jonathan Lavallee, Andrew Hackard, Sara McMillen

Sunday is the day where I don't shut up on panels, as opposed to the days where I just don't shut up in general. This is a good kind of intro panel, how do I deal with all this stuff going on with RPGs? I hope we get a chance to talk about the awesome stuff and the pitfalls that come with the social aspect of the hobby, because that's what it is.

Panel: Step Right Up: Promoting your game
Time: Sunday, 1:45 PM
Location: 705
Description: Making games is fun, but a huge part of games is selling
them to other people. From game publishers to the general public how
do you get people interested in the fun times that you've created.
We'll discuss things from elevator pitches, to demos, to various tools
that you can use to help make sure you generate excitement for your
game.
Fellow Panelists: Jonathan Lavallee, Jason Anarchy

This one was one of the panels that I requested. We haven't had a "business" panel at Fan Expo yet and after some conversations with some people at some local events I think having a discussion about sales and demo work. Making people excited about your product is just as important as being able to make the product itself. Anyway, it's just Jason and me so it should have plenty of opportunities for people to bring up their questions.

Panel: State of the Game Industry
Time: Sunday, 3:45 PM
Location: 705
Description: Another year has passed, and the industry remains. What
new releases wowed the market? Are stores & distributors still
relevant in the age of Print on Demand and PDF sales?
Panelists: Robin Laws, Jonathan Lavallee, Phil Reed, Kate Bullock

This is the panel we have at the end of the con every year. I'll give the same spoiler alert. It's both going really well, and at the same time still has plenty of places that it needs to improve in order to grow and be even better than it is.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Chill Talk - Weapons

This may seem to be a weird place to start, considering I'm a person who hates weapon lists because I find them immensely boring like only a block of stats can be. However, this is a great place to start with a discussion about why  but trust me this is one of the things I love the most about this game.

If you've read the book, you may have gone over to look for a list of weapons to see what they might do. You might have done this as a player looking for weapons, or as a GM trying to remember what kind of damage each weapon does. You're not going to find it, the closest you're going to find for that is on page 223 and 224 of the Chill 3rd edition book. It won't give you "this weapon does this and this weapon does that" but what it's going to give you is a base default for what weapons do. You punch someone it's going to start at superficial, melee starts at minor, ballistic weapons start at serious and it kind of works its way up from there.

This is something beautiful with the game, because weapons are still incredibly effective. A colossal success with a gun can be a lethal shot killing someone instantly. But what's great is that you aren't bogged down with having to look up the precise stats of what everything does. Instead, what the game says you should do is apply what situational modifiers you think are appropriate. Someone goes for a chop to the throat, they make their roll maybe start their damage at serious and then apply any benefits from the roll. A monster on the ground, and thrashing about in a trap while an envoy has a pistol at point blank range. Good planning, that's stats at Critical. That pistol shooting through a door, well the damage might start at minor rather than serious, but if it's got special ammo maybe not.

Instead of dealing with a hard mechanical solution to a problem, that's the text that ends up being like 1343987aoshj;l09739 pages in a book where the writers try to come up with how the rules will apply to this situation. It's also one of those spots in games where you get a lot of people going, "Well this doesn't make sense" or where you get the arguments from rules lawyers going "well according to this page, because I'm behind wood it counts as halving the damage so I only take X from the bazooka." These kinds of things happen because there isn't any way to predict every situation.

With Chill we've removed all that kind of worry. If your players have planned well and their trap has gone off, rewards them by making their attacks automatically better. If your players have though things out poorly, then they're going to be in for a long night, or put themselves at a greater disadvantage. You can do all of this as the CM on the fly, because you can understand that this situation would create a specific type of advantage (either by increasing the TN, having it deal more damage or ... just working) or disadvantage without the rules telling you exactly what that kind of explicit advantage it its.

That's not to say that the game doesn't have general penalties for doing actions. Targeted Strike/Shot does have a listed -40 to the TN penalty on page 191, or that we don't have our own Counterattack modifiers (pg. 192) but this is the minority. What the game is really trying to tell you is have fun, make the game scary for your players and while we give you the framework for that, you are good enough to look at the situation and apply your own modifiers for the best effect because it's great, and faster that way. Which leaves you more brain power to think about how you can terrify your players.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Gen Con 2015 - Convention Games in Review

Gen Con this year was kind of amazing. I say that as someone who spends most of his time running between a booth and events and not someone who attends the convention. What I'm going to talk about are the two games of Chill that I ran this year.

Both games were Cold Dark Earth, which was a module that Matt created and was hoping to have on the website soon. I'm not going to spoil it too much, but it involves a nasty thing coming back from the dead.

My first group plotted, and planned and tried to figure out what to do and with some great thinking, great research and an "aha" moment they managed to defeat the creature without taking too much damage. Of course, they put the target at risk and almost lost her. In the end she survived but with dirty hand prints forever etched on her throat, and both of one of the SAVE envoy's arms aged 40 years from the fight.

The second group, did some research found the second body and was like "Screw it, we have to kill this thing." They tried their best, and they got some good shots in (a couple of colossal successes) but the creature had basically managed to Critically Injure two players before they decided to back off. That's when the person playing Jenny, one of the characters without combat skills, tried to hit the creature with a car. She knew that she was basically screwing her character over, but was like "this is horror, let's do it."

Finally they managed to get to the target, but since time was running short I flipped a chip and had the monster hitch a ride with them on top of the van. There was a great fight at the end, when they decided to try to find ways to damage the creature. It worked, and then they took the next mental jump to figure out how to stop the creature.

There were more things that happened, and I'll try to get some of it covered in another post but that's a quick run down of the games that I ended up running. Chill runs beautifully, there are so many things that I'm probably going to pick up and talk about because I really do think that this is a great game, and a great horror game. If you haven't gotten it you really should.

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