Wednesday, 1 April 2015

RPG Update; Legend of the Five Rings and Fiasco

Off on specialist weapon training on The Black Planet
I find myself unusually left to my own devices tonight.  Sister Superior has just started a new job and has to go away for a couple of days for training in England - Birmingham today, Manchester tomorrow.  As such I am occupying myself with nerdy reading and stuffing my face with junk food.

I am also writing this blog post, which you are reading right now with your eyes and everything.  In it I am writing about the last two sessions of RPG night in which we played two games I haven't played before.  

Now you are reading the next paragraph, where I tell you that more details follow after the cut.

The cherry blossoms are falling
Molly ran last week's session, in which we played Legend of the Five Rings.  An Asian fantasy game set in Rokugan, L5R has strong dashes of Japanese and Chinese medieval history and mythology in the same way that D&D has strong dashes of European history and myth as its foundation.  Molly offered to run a one-off during the current block which I was happy to take part in - get to the other side of the screen occasionally and all that.

It's a game I knew of but had never tried.  I knew it was written by John Wick, an author I have a less-than-stellar impression of but who has written several popular games; that it shares it's world with a collectible card game and the tournaments have changed the game world; and that the world of Rokugan was used in the 3rd edition Oriental Adventures book.

Also, L5R is the only game I know to have a supplement with an intentionally lying title
Molly's adventure saw us all playing samurai who were part of various different clans but operating together as Imperial Magistrates to escort a politically important young chap through territory contested by two warring clans.  (Clans we were part of, for the most part.)  Although the game includes rules for spellcasters she made us all samurai as it was mechanically simpler - and let us see how L5R deals with the Pendragon conundrum of having all players being fundamentally employed in the same job but still different.

The solutions, that each clan has various advantages, mostly plays out fine.  The rule system is fairly straightforward for a traditional game: "roll and keep", as it is known, sees players roll X ten sided dice and keep the Y highest.  Rolls of 10 "explode", that is they are ten plus an additional role, which allows potentially very high numbers to be rolled even on only a small set of dice.  Additional training in a skill like sword use or climbing increases how many dice you can roll, but increasing how many dice you keep requires building up the underlying ability like Strength or Agility.

Pictures of Samurai and spellcasters from all seven clans, as shown in Oriental Adventures.  Note that gender roles, like in D&D, don't match the historical equivalent and players can pretty freely be female samurai, ninja and spellcasters.
Overall the session seemed fairly successful, letting us demo the various rules systems including combat.  Combat is a particularly brutal affair, with a small line between "unhurt" and "limbs flying off".  Being hit by a katana or arrow is serious business, and armour tends to be quite light compared to western European equivalents.  Despite all being samurai there were three clans present and a variation between the more combat heavy and more diplomacy heavy samurai of that clan - everyone seemed to have a gimmick.

My biggest complaint is something I have with a lot of Asian-themed media and that is an overabundance of proper nouns I can't understand.  Now, people who know me will find this money because I am a highly loquacious gentleman forever dropping in unusual but cromulent words.  I even ran a Word of the Day poster series at my work for a year!  My roleplaying games thusly see me pepper my speech with some weird and wonderful words, especially Pendragon where my NPCs occasionally drop Middle English phrases like gramercy, twelvemonth, to-brast and to-shivered

Cultural differences
However, I find myself struggling to follow L5R when it uses a host of Asian terms without much pause.  All of our Samurai had a sort of "sub-job", none of which I could really process, remember and use again.  When playing Pendragon I do need to go into the specifics of how a Baron, Count and Duke differ but all the group can parse those words as "noble": but  when my character sheet doesn't say "Sword" but "Kenjitsu", I find myself doubting how that's different to Iaijutsu.  

Even just names can be a chore for me, in a way that I don't find made-up D&D names like Mialee, Krusk, Tordek or Lidda difficult.  Possibly I just find words with a English/Romance/whatever rhythm easier to memorize than ones with an Asian vibe?  Not sure, but I know I'm not alone in this one, as Sister Superior commented that as much as she enjoyed reading Battle Royale she struggled to follow the characters when a full school class of Japanese names were present.

My lexical racism aside, L5R was a perfectly pleasant night and I'd play it again for a one-off.

Smokey, my friend, you are entering a world of pain.
The week before we'd played a GM-less game I've wanted to try for years.  Fiasco is a role-playing game in which players generate a.... well, Fiasco, by creating a powder-keg of a situation then lighting the fuse.  It's designed to work for 3 to 5 players, so we shot for the middle with a four person group - Sister Superior, Molly, Ginger Dave and myself.

The start of a session of this one-night-only game sees you generate up a situation from a list of tables called a Playset.  Many different playsets exist - the core game comes with four, and there's a host available for free download on the internet.  Each playset gives you random choices that determine the relationship between the characters and their goals, as well as interesting locales and objects which will pop up in the course of the chaos.

Many of these playsets are real world, no sci-fi or fantasy element type affairs.  The core book includes a Nice Southern Town In America, for example, and downloads see your chaos take place in an Amateur Dramatics Society, a rock band on tour and a horse racing meet.  Genre ones do exist if you absolutely can't fathom playing a game without zombies or Cthulhu - but part of the appeal for me was the total change of pace.

Some of the many free playsets on Bully Pulpit Games' website.

In preparation for the game I chose six possible playsets and had them waiting on the table for the group to ponder.  Athough I kept things real world I still gave a fairly varied mixture of settings: the Houses of Parliament, a Wedding, a Millionaire's Penthouse Party, a Touring Rock Band, a High School and our own fair Glasgow.  They all lent themselves to different films and different places on the funnt-funny to horrible-funny scale - Touring Rock Band suggests something Spinal Tap-esque, while a High School might have leant itself to Mean Girls.

Perhaps because many of the male members of the group had abandoned us for the night - Aaron was busy, while neither Matthew or Raj were interested in the game - we ended up making a choice I wouldn't have expected normally.

Though the Houses of Parliament was a strong second, and is probably what we'd play next time
Character generation saw us roll a big pile of dice and take turns to select one dice and spent it on our tables to decide on the different objects, relationships, locations and needs relevant to the game. We had some choice at the start - if I picked up a 5, I could choose which category to apply that to - but as things went on we ended up making tougher choices and being led down certain alleys.

Even within a single playset there's a lot of choice.  At one point, Sister Superior had two choices for an object relevant to her and Dave's characters.  She ended up picking "digital camera full of pictures", but another valid choice at that point was "a badly hidden bruise".  The latter would have been more overtly grim, suiting something more like Fargo.  Instead, we ended up playing it more as a farce.

What if you're right and they're wrong?
As it happens we ended up gender-flipped.  Sister Superior was the groom, organising the wedding for his heavilly pregnant fiancee Regina; Molly the groom's deadbeat man-child dad; I was the grooms stern Protestant mother, divorced from the father and somewhat resentful of him; Dave was the happy clappy gospel minister mother of Regina trying to officiate her own daughter's wedding.

Things started with a stag night gone wrong and degenerated wildly.  The wedding did still happen, but only after pictures of the groom spanking a strippers arse had been projected on the wall of the church; the mother of the groom had tried to drown her ex-husband in the baptismal font; the groom's dad had chased the bride down in a McDonald's drive thru; and a SWAT team had smashed their way through the stained glass windows just as the bride went into labour.

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus....
 Fiasco seemed a big hit, and worked a lot better than our last GMless game.  Every player takes a turn to have a scene in Fiasco centered on them, and they can choose between Setting the scene or deciding if it ends well/poorly.  Therefore, you have to let your characters be pulled by the other players - either they set the scene and choose your problem, or they decide if you get out of the problem you set or not.

In the middle of the table at the start of the game are an equal number of Good and Bad ending tokens which are used as you resolve scenes.  The fixed resource aspect of this affects things as players find their choices vanish as the game goes on.  Despite that, we ended up being quite happy to choose Bad things for ourselves and watch our characters go from chaos to carnage as they tried to get Regina married before the day was out.

All players seemed happy to step in and play NPCs as required which was perhaps part of why it flowed.  Yes, I played a fair few roles, but unlike Death Takes A Holiday there were quire a few points when other people happily nominated themselves.  Both Sister Superioer and myself played Regina depending on the needs of the scene, and Dave and I turned in a little blast as police officers at one point.

Overall, Fiasco is a game I'd definitely play again.  One for the next one-off block methinks!

The one-off block isn't quite over, though.  One game left, with Matthew running something tomorrow...

To be continued!

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