Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas Is Over (If You Want It)

A splendiferous Christmas Torchic from DeviantArt

 I trust that you've all had an enjoyable winter solstice festival of your preferred format.  If you are anything like Sister Superior and I you are happy, albeit somewhat heavier than you were beforehand and in possession of more chocolates than you have any real use for.

The only black mark on my Christmas, really, was the death of my PC monitor on boxing day which necessitated a trip into the sales to get a new one.  It wasn't a huge surprise as it had been behaving a little oddly for a while, but once it properly failed there wasn't much to be done bar trawl about for a quick and dirty replacement.

It wasn't quite this bad - it actually just kept turning itself off and on.
There was also some cultural exchange taking place, with Sister Superior showing me a few films I hadn't seen before.  I had my first viewings of The Santa Clause, Legally Blonde and The Nightmare  Before Christmas this week - while she saw for the first time the third best Christmas movie ever made, Die Hard.

Third best because... well, there are two other films I just can't go a Christmas without watching.

 Now, inevitably, you're going to want to know if I got any interesting gaming type stuff that falls under the remit of this blog.  Well, GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE!  I have!

Busting makes 1-4 people feel good!

 The big one is the Ghostbusters board game, a co-operative endeavour for up to four people (though it can also be played solo) based on the classic 1980s films and cartoon series.  Double-sided, repositionable board pieces and a slew of different ghostly figures and gateway tokens allow a variety of different missions to be played but the core mechanic remains one of busting and storing the ghosts in time, before the spirit world overwhelms the material plane.

The game comes with a bunch of different scenarios - some stand-alone ones and some designed to be played in order, adding a certain amount of RPG-like story and character progression into the mix.  There is also a scenario generator for those who have exceeded these, though I think it'd take a fair while to through the whole lot.

The board game comes with four of these
On a more RPG note the board game comes with useful props - while I've never used miniatures in a Ghostbusters session, having Ghostbuster and ghosts figures available is pretty cool.  (Even if I'd still prefer the Paranormal Exterminators figures and accessory kits from Crooked Dice Games: there's even two different female options.)

 The four D6s, though, with a No-Ghost symbol on them... there's no denying there's a clear use for those.  Ghost Dice!  Real Ghost Dice! 

Not cosmically different, but there's some bits and bobs worth noting

Sister Superior got me two RPGs, though interestingly both are RPGs I already own a different version or format of.  One of those is the third edition of Primetime Adventures, the card-based group narration game we use as the core of our Star Trek game.  This is a product we'll definitely get use out of - we've often spoken about using the system for other things and I'd be really interested in doing a completely new TV show styled game rather than aping an existing format.

The changes are fairly minor, as you'd expect with a quite mechanically light game.  Some of the wording and advice on game structure has been amended, including talking more overtly about giving your game a US TV ratings guideline to guide players in what content is and isn't acceptable at the table.  They also advise building a sort of master character list for the game - come up with your premise, decide who are likely characters of note, tick off the PC ones and then hand the rest to the producer to help them populate the world.

Excuse the rough scan, I don't have a PDF of this book and it's all white-on-black which makes it hard to scan clear.
For helping you when you haven't got a pre-set idea of what to make your show about, there's a suggested system for random generation.  Each player draws two cards from a deck and lays them out, using the above key to turn them into story element - you then all take it in turns to pick three cards that interest you and generate a story premise using those elements.  You've then got a wad of possibles to debate using.

Some of the terms are purposefully a bit vague to allow a few different interpretations.  Prohibition + Family + City might a story about a 1920s American family becoming a crime family, but Prohibitoin + Boat/Ship +  Antiquity could be a story about being smugglers, shipping ancient world artifacts around the Mediterranean.  

What about actual play, though?  If we start using these rules, would we see any changes at the table?

...Yeah, kinda

Primetime Adventures 2nd Ed worked on a system where hands of cards were dealt out to the GM and the players.  Having more red cards than the GM meant you won; the person with the highest ranked card got to narrate how the various people won or lost their conflicts.  This system meant sometimes you had to describe your failure or someone else's success.

In Third Ed you always narrate your own actions, success or failure.  However, now whether your highest card is higher or not than the GM affects whether you have a partial or total success/failure.  As per the scanned sheet, this means that there are more likely to be enforced sort-of successes or partial failures rather than the players having to improvise that themselves. 

Will I use these alterations?  I'll probably give them a go.  Star Trek is the next campaign game on our to-do list, and I've been trying (and failing) to win people round to the idea of a Starfleet Academy game which would be the DS9-esque Spin-Off to our TNG show.  Perhaps experimenting on new characters might be a way to try out the new rules?

It's got a whole RPG sourcebook and everything.
The other book I got is one I own in PDF, but really wanted in hard copy.  That game is Night Witches, which you may recall I ran back in July.  I really enjoyed this game I was determined to pick it up in book form to make running it a little easier - and to appreciate the awesome artwork the game comes with.  This is definitely one I want to run again, either for more one-offs or for a campaign.

"How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin". - Ronald Reagan

 The group seemed to enjoy the session, albeit their main comment as I recall was that combat wasn't actually terribly interesting.  It felt like the heart of the game was actually life on the base, and the fighting was brutal and random but not actually terribly engaging.  Maybe with more playing we'd crack this aspect of it more, either learning more interesting things to do in the air or just sticking to the more soap opera elements.

Remember this is a game about real women - these bad-ass bitches were the terror of the Nazis, even if their own |Russian military didn't respect them.

 One thing I'd like to try, if I could talk the group into it, is an alternating narration aspect.  The game suggests that every time the 588th Regiment move from one battle front to another you should change GMing duties, with the current GM playing a new or returning Night Witch while another person (perhaps one whose character has been injured, killed or promoted away) takes over for this block.  The baton passes around as the regiment changes its makeup, with not every lady who starts in training getting to Berlin and the victory parade when the war ends.|

Natalya Fyodorovna Meklin, a Ukranian Night Witch who flew over 900 missions and was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal.  That's basically the Soviet equivalent of the Victoria Cross

So.... yeah!  Let's make this happen guys!  Killing Nazis is never a bad thing, right?  Even if you do have to GM a little bit now and then....

Amusingly, I bought another set of these as a Christmas present for the person who got me these
From Matthew we also have the Voyages set of Story Cubes, to add to my collection.  (I already had the Original, Actions, Intergalactic and Enchanted sets.)  These are a simple party game in which you roll dice that have various different symbols on them - you have to try and assemble a story using as many of the symbols you roll as possible.

This is more a brief diversion than a full nerdy game but it has a lot of things going for it - portable, easily explainable to newbies and the young, a useful tool to come up with story ideas when you're suffering writer's block.  Mixing and matching different sets can produce weird results too, which can be entertaining - they also make a Sports, Medic, Prehistoric and Clues set.

I even have a less classy set of story dice from another manufacturer than I can combine in if I want to make.... erm, more mature stories.  Though when I tried this with Sister Superior she rolled two ladies and a moon and tried to create a "Werelesbian", which just led to a half hour argument about what a Werelesbian is.  Is it a woman who turns into a lesbian?  Is it a lesbian who turns into a wolf?  Is it a wolf who turns into a lesbian?  If a man is bitten by a werelesbian, does he turns into a lesbian in the full moon?

Not safe for work, obviously.
 Anyway, I've been promising a real return to this blog and I'll see if I can make that happen soon.  Sister Superior got many books and two 3DS games for Christmas which means she should be kept occupied.... and an occupied Sister Superior means I'll be in need of some entertainment.

Let's see if we can dust down the paintbrushes, eh?

I will be a widow to this for months.


  1. Nice haul!

    Re: Night Witches. My actual-play podcast has a couple sessions in the can, and I'm finding the same issues as you: the programmed nature of the combat rolls tends to make the bombing raids into a sort of side effect of the main focus of drama on the base. After the first session, I made a concerted effort as GM to describe the brutality and terror of the raids a little more effectively. It's just an effect to be mindful of, I think.

    As for the rotating GM thing, I'm the group's regular GM, and even though I pitched the game as being conducive to GM rotation, I've yet to have any takers. I'm not particularly hot on forcing the issue either, since I happen to be the most knowledgable about this period and theater of war, so it's been a nice excuse to apply some of that knowledge in-game. I think if everyone at the table was on about equal footing in terms of knowledge (or lack thereof) of the setting, it might work better. Likewise if the group had a tradition of GM rotation already in place.

    Question about Primetime Adventures: is it primarily focused on action-type concepts, or would it work well for procedural dramas as well? Or is Drama System the way to go in the latter case?

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience, David! Yeah, I think that one might be able to help sell the experience of air combat by narration even if mechanically they're a bit underwhelming. After all, you're flying in out-of-date planes with poor equipment in the pitch black while better trained and equipped force harries you. You're also fighting an opponent who utterly despise you and who you utterly despise - while the British/Germany conflict saw grudging respect between soldiers and officers, that shit ain't gonna happen on the Eastern front!

    I think it's always going to be hard to convince a group that has a primary GM to consider a rotating GM type setup in a single campaign. We tried a "Guest GM" deal in my Star Trek game in 2015 - two players ran a single session each, and any player who did got a benefit for their PC when they returned to play. Night Witches doesn't exactly have a huge carrot on offer to encourage players to be a co-GM, instead just insisting it should happen in certain circumstances... but as you say, people might feel uncomfy if they feel they can't do it without being an expert in 1940s Russian pilots.

    I think one possible fix might be to sell that the rotating GM thing is an important part of the games feel and participating in it, even though it might feel weird at first, helps with the theme of the game. It's not a story about individual pilots, exactly, but about a regiment - not all the members are going to make it out alive. Giving each GM a different battlefield lets them also play with the tropes of the different parts of the war, from the grim sections where the Russians are on the ropes to the triumphant sections where the days of Nazism are numbered.

    In the case of Primetime Adventures, it absolutely would handle a drama game just fine and to be honest is in fact a better fir for that than more action-y ones IMHO. All conflict resolution is handed the same, with a hand of cards dealt out between players and GM and success/failure determined by who has the most red cards. Scenes are either "plot scenes" about advancing the story of today's episode of "character scenes" about showing glimpses into a person's psyche. You resolve a knife fight with the exact same mechanical complexity as you would trying to convince your wife to admit she's cheating on you.

    Play examples throughout the book back this up - the primary case study is of a 1920s Chicago gangster style game in which the main characters are an older brother shell-shocked from the war, a younger brother who wants to prove he isn't the kid, a sister who wants to be of a better class than she currently is and the patriarch father still grieving for his dead wife and lashing out at others. Like an episode of the Sopranos, Fargo or Breaking Bad of course there will be some actiony sections where people punch, shoot or chase them.... but it's clear that a heavy focus is going to be on resolving the personal issues of the cast.