Sunday, 31 January 2016

You Are Not Evicting Time: Attack Wing Playing, Sherlock Holmes Impersonating & Doctor Who RPGing

 So, what nerdy business has been happening with The Quail and Sister Superior of late?  What have I been doing, apart from presumably continuing work on my ruined buildings?

Well, a week or two ago the two of us went round to visit Kenny who had invited us over to play Star Trek Attack Wing.  Sister Superior was a little nervous about this - her patience holds out for board and card games but full on wargames can sap at her a little.  Still, Attack Wing is kinda Kenny's bag so along we went for one of several nerdy gatherings I've had in recent weeks.  Below you'll find some rambling on Attack Wing, a Sherlock Holmes board game and my latest RPG shenanigans.

I have a bit of a soft spot for the Romulans, who seem far smarter villains than the Klingon but get very little screen time in contrast.
While we enjoyed some more casual games like Exploding Kittens and Cards Against Humanity with Kenny and Tom - I managed a strong showing in the latter- a short intro to Attack Wing was still played.  Kenny and my missus went on a side each, he at the healm of his beloved U.S.S. Enterprise E while she took a Cardassian warship.  On the other side of proceedings was Tom in a Klingon Bird of Prey and myself in a Romulan Warbird.  A big blue planet would dominate the middle of the table as we explained how moving and shooting worked.

Kenny's homemade planet looms as the ships come to bear.

 My Romulan Warbird swooped in under cloak and opened fire very early, only to be on the receiving end of a volley from both Kenny and Sister Superior.  He managed to bash away at my hull and she was all set to deliver the follow-up, though thankfully at the end of the carnage I still had one hull point left

She did deal a critical hit, though, which meant I had to flip a card over from the critical deck...

Well... shit

...and with that I was out on turn two, ladies and gentlemen.  I own this game at home but I'm unsure I can convince the missus to play again, since she quite enjoys having a 100% success ratio against me.

Sister Superior makes her feelings clear.
 Oh well.  At least I've got the Star Trek RPG restarting shortly so I can play Star Trek in another, less competitive way!

Speaking of not very competitive games...
Not easilly replayable but a lot of fun
 Last Wednesday we also travelled out to nerd, this time to my 40K chum Graeme's house.  (You may remember him as the one whose Tyranids pumped me mercilessly last year).  He and his wife had recently obtained Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and were looking for chums to join them in playing it.
The contents of the board game, including booklets and news papers for ten different cases
The game is slightly odd in having no random elements and being inclined towards a more team play rather than opposed.  (There is a way to play in competition, but even then it's somewhat subdued.) It comes with ten booklets, each one for a different case: we played The Munitions Magnate, a murder case.  It also comes with a double sized newspaper to go with each case, a map of Victorian London and a directory allowing one to look up names of people then find them on the map. 

The best way I can describe this game would be an odd sort of RPG/choose your own adventure book hybrid with a somewhat more sandbox feel to the usual linear game book.  The booklet gives you the start of the crime investigation process, showing you the first few pieces of evidence and presenting you with the first witness details.  Based on this information you might want to visit people or places mentioned - or perhaps more generic visits like the Coroner's Office, the newspaper reporters or Huggy Bear esque underworld contacts.

Each location or person has a unique code and the booklets provide the data for if you go to that location.  Go to visit the coroner in case one and they'll tell you what they found on the body - which will of course be different in later booklets since the case will be different.  Some people don't appear in your booklet because they aren't relevant - the tobacconist isn't going to pop up in every case! - but you'll find a bunch of red herrings, loose ends and surprising connections are possible.

Possibly a better adaptation of Sherlock Holmes than a lot of "real" Sherlock Holmes stories
At any given point you attempt to solve the case and how correct your answers are to some key questions is combined with how few leads you needed to investigate to get to the end.  We ended up with a bit of  QI-esque minus score because we went round a HUGE number of leads compared to what we were "supposed" to, though it feels a bit bad form to punish us for wanting to explore the game world and the large booklet provided.  Doing it in the tine number of moves allowed for maximum point scores would frankly not be terribly much fun.

I mostly enjoyed this game, partly because I felt like a genius when I got a fact about the crime right but also because it produces a good party game equivalent to a "real" RPG that normals can wrap their heads around. The main issue with the game would be that it's not really re playable since each booklet has a "right" answer.  Admittedly with ten booklets you could play once a week and not run out of game play for two months - and that's before you factor in the existence of fan-made supplements.  Still, it's not really viable to play old quests again with new people unless you use something that affects your short term memory, you serve as some sort of gamesmaster to the other players or you use something that affects your short term memory.

Speaking of games mastering...

I need do very little original thought for a Doctor Who RPG - the Big Finish audio stories give me a wealth of plot ideas to nick, such as this one.
 Thursday was the last session in this eight-week block of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.  Sessions five and six were a Dalek story, nicking the setup from a Big Finish audio drama and letting the players spin their way wildly through it.  Inevitably even when I start with the same opening premise as an "official" Doctor Who story the players and their unique ideas mean it doesn't quite go that way.

The players are following the trail of a TARDIS passing through the Vortex found themselves on a BBC quarry-style planet, the distant colony of Red Rocket Rising.  Here they ended up teaming up with a scientist who had a secret laboratory that had gotten him thrown in jail, and a politician desperate to use that scientist's gear to contact off planet for assistance.  A surprise asteroid collision had caused massive dust clouds that blocked sunlight and communication, turning the marginal colony world into a hellhole.

But don't worry, kids!  That off planet contact gets an immediate response from a passing starship.  They'd love to come down and help - they are used to extinction events, actually.  One happened to their homeworld.

Straight out of TV Action and the Dalekmania of the sixties.  None of your Davros here, mate
Yes, the Daleks: there's a reason I told the players the first part was called Red Rocket Rising and saved Blood of the Daleks for part two!  That asteroid was actually a Dalek base that crashed on the world and they're really keen to find out what happened to it, in particular because they think the crash was influence by a time traveler and they're worried some weird Time War shenanigans are happening to them.

The mad scientist previously mentioned, Martez, does indeed have shenanigans in mind.  An expert in bio-engineering and with a strong interest in humans surviving on difficult worlds, he came to this distant colony to quietly work on experiments genetically engineering humans who could survive better in harsh climates and require less terraforming.  The crash of a Dalek ship provides him with a huge bunch of exciting new DNA and technological samples and from that he comes up with an idea of how humans could be made... better.

Unsurprisingly it involves sink plungers and egg whisks.

The colour scheme of Martez's new Daleks.  (Picture from Devious, a Doctor Who fan film group)

The players ran around trying to prevent Martez from inventing a whole new army of Martez-built Daleks and the Imperial Daleks from carrying out genocide on the planet of Red Rocket Rising to prevent the spread of "tainted Dalek genes."  The players ended up coming up with a bit of a time travel-specific solution, travelling in their TARDIS and preventing the base from crashing in the first place. 

Problem solved, right?...

 Nah, this just causes hilarious paradox since the group remember a totally counterfactual history.  Especially when a single person and a Martez Dalek are amongst the people who leave the now non-existant time line, walking around being all paradox-y.

The group, led as they are by a trainee Time Lord who doesn't quite understand the implications of this yet, go off in search of who tried to cause the Dalek base to crash in the first place.  Hot on the heels of this TARDIS, their next stop is London in the early renaissance.  After a bit of IDing they work out that it's 1605 and early november.

Wait a minute...
Guest-Starring Alan Rickman as Guy Fawkes and Idris Elba as Sabbath.
Yes, that's right, they've arrived in the final stages of the Gunpowder Plot.  Their time rivals seem to have come to mess with this rather key point in time and they soon realise their nemesis has infiltrated the plot, placing modern-day explosives amongst the gunpowder to allow a remote detonation even when Guy is discovered.

 After a bit of running around and some time befriending the world's most famous Catholic terrorist, they start scanning for evidence of future technology and find that there's a TARDIS secreted in the tomb of St Paul's Cathedral.  The Reader breaks in and finds it's been decorated in a goth style, all black with bone and ivory details.

It's also home to a Time Lord called Sabbath, and his companion - a Time Lord called... er.... Sabbath?  Who has the same face as him even though they're different regenerations?

Remember me?  From the last Doctor Who Post?  Well I have a name now...
Yes, it all got very weird at this point as they discovered their adversaries weren't people who had stolen Time Lord tech but actual rogue Time Lords.  From the bowels of the BBC book range comes an adaptation of the Faction Paradox group - here presented as Time Lords who believed that possessing time travel but never using it to change history was pointless, and surviving the Time War and powering their TARDISes by means of a variant Eye of Harmony fuelled not by a black hole but by paradox.    Fracturing history just makes them stronger - by messing with their plans on Red Rocket Rising and making another paradox, the group actually made them Stronger.

Things went a bit Animal Man as the players spoke more with Sabbath.  We've ran a few Doctor Who games and although we've mixed and matched Time Lords and Companions we've never really bothered with "intro stories" to explain the new mixes - we just got going with The Doctor, The Minister of Chance or The Reader so we could get to the good bit.  Sabbath claimed that all of these stories happened and that the fact the players couldn't remember how they met each other was in fact because they've been involved in Faction Paradox's plans before...

"Of course you can't remember why you left The Minister and started spending time with The Reader.  This isn't the first time a Time Lord has interfered with us. We've had to deal with The Doctor, The Minister of Chance, The Corsair, Valentine... we've gotten very good at dealing with the opposition."

Thankfully the group still managed to save the day - they defeated one of the Sabbaths and stopped his regeneration from setting all the gunpowder on fire.  Guy Fawkes was sent to complete his historically required fate... but the other Sabbath escaped, being rescued by a third Sabbath.  The Reader and her companions went back to modern day Earth with computer files they stole from Faction Paradox to try and work out what they're up to - and how their on history has been messed by them.

While analysing the history of Earth they notice a weird phenomenon.  Eleven days are missing from 1752 - though on closer examination this is just an oddity of the calendar caused by Britain moving from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.  These 11 days don't REALLY exist, so they aren't missing.

But then, away from the players but for the benefit of the viewer, Sabbath mention they will go back now to Faction Paradox headquarters... the Eleven Day Empire.

Overall, Doctor Who seemed to go down OK- the players mostly seemed interested in playing it again, either with the existing system or moving to Primetime Adventures.  Something Matthew was keen to try previously but I insisted we give the "real" system a longer play first.  One possible problem was that Time Lord plus four/five/six companions is just a lot of people and some of them didn't get enough screen time - Ailsa and Matthew had clearer gimmicks for their companions, while Aaron and Dave often felt a bit fifth-wheel-like.  Primetime Adventures might fix that somewhat though then we'd lose some of the combat crunch.

I think the Horror on Glam Rock, base under siege adventure was possibly the best and I really enjoyed the first parts of both the Dalek and Gunpowder Plot stories - though the second part of the Dalek story had a bit of a non-event ending when the players decided to solve things not with running up and down corridors but by making sure it was them that stole their dads keys.  (Though in this case, they stole the keys a week before they went missing.)

I'd be curious to hear what my players think now they've had a few days to mull it over.  Would we be up to playing a second block of this game?  Are there any things you'd like to see in a second season?  What rules-set should we use?


  1. I enjoyed the Doctor Who game and would definitely be up for another block. I quite like the fact that we make more use of time travel than the show does and can end up doing clever things with it (the 1999 missile is probably my favourite example of that so far).

    As for the ruleset, I have no issues with the current one. The obsession with running games with different rulesets seems to be a bit of a case of "grass is greener on the other side". It's different if there were any specific complaints about how the system works, but basically saying for every game "yeah, it's fun, but it'd be better with Primetime Adventures" gets a bit dull. In saying that, I also have no objection to moving it to PTA, I just don't see the problem that you're trying to solve.

    1. I think the main problem that PtA would do something about would be the lack of even screentime. As mentioned I think the characters of Penny (Dave) and Fitz (Aaron) didn't really get much to do and just sorta hang around the background. The Reader and Captain Mark seemed to dominate when it came to adventure solving skill rolls, with Frobisher and Pam holding a sort of midpoint. (Antimony was also in that midpoint when he was present, I think.)

      The main advantage to moving to Primetime Adventures in this particular case would be that it suits ensemble play and ensures that everyone gets a spotlight episode - I don't think anyone in our Star Trek game feels like "the other one" in the way that Penny and Fitz did in this game. For the most part different skill sets are handled equally and group narration means that even if the story focuses on one or two other players you can still have an impact. Making Penny the star of episode 5 and having the rules back that up would make sure Dave got a chance to shine, and making the Reader a 1 on that episode would mean we couldn't just Psychic Screwdriver our way out of that weeks problem.

      I would certainly agree that trying to fit everything into Primetime Adventures isn't always the best call - the lack of crunchy combat means that it doesn't suit any game where you want more tactical, battle-map and manoeuvre-list-style fights. Sometimes a game system brings little oddities with it - the brutal rules of Night Witches and the high chance of death in the long term tells you the kind of game it's going to be. I wouldn't own so many games if I didn't think that new systems offered something that the ones I already own don't have! :-D

    2. Okay, that's fair enough, thanks for the explanation. I'm happy to give Doctor Who a go with PTA.