Tuesday, 31 May 2016

One-Off Season, Spring 2016

With Star Trek over, a short season of three one-off RPG sessions followed.  Molly had returned from her work abroad, so she joined us to play again and also to run a session.  As usual my goal was to run at least one game I hadn’t played before, as well as cleanse the palette somewhat between our longer running campaigns with some different tones, genres and rules-sets.

First up was a new game for us and one which has been on the to-do list for ages. Starchildren: Velvet Generation is a game in which players are rock-and-roll-fugitives in a totalitarian future where art is controlled by the government, music is an underground rebellion and hippy aliens from a distant star have to come to help free us from our nightmare.  My standard issue explanation is “Ziggy Stardust meets 1984” – and with the passing of David Bowie at the start of the year, it seemed like it was finally time to play the game.

Owned for years, finally using.
I made up half-a-dozen pregens, all members of the same band: the players ended up taking a singer, guitarist, bassist, drummer and manager.  (The keyboardist, alas, was left on the shelf.)  The Singer and Manager were the eponymous alien Starchildren, very much with a Man Who Fell To Earth-esque angle of mysterious wisdom and powers but a lack of savvy and a predilection for addiction.  The end result is that Humans are still very much capable as player characters and I didn’t feel like it was The Starchildren And Their Sidekicks in play.

"Someone to lead us, someone to follow..."

There’s more than a touch of White Wolf’s World of Darkness to the execution, with Starchildren mostly able to pass for human at a casual glance but with some supernatural powers of telepathy, electromagnetic control and shape-shifting that they can learn to harness.  The combat system is on the brutal end of the spectrum and any time one is shot, stabbed or slammed it’s going to hurt.  This was particularly notable in the end when their concert was broken up by the Ministry of Music’s thugs – a riot policeman shooting at a regular civilian went pretty much exactly how you’d imagine, their only available weapons for self-defense being broken bottles, brass knuckles or a crowbar.

The background has always interested me but the rules system was the part I was most nervous about be.  Despite reading it several times it’s never really clicked with me and I’ve often wondered if I’d be better converting to something else, but we decided to give it a try.  The core of the system is that players have a hand of cards and specific abilities and skills are tied to certain suits, with an ability and it’s related skills always the same colour – so you might use Diamond for all Appearance ability skills while the Seduction skill is a Hearts   Playing cards of the relevant suit lets you use that ability/skill’s value – playing cards of the wrong suit gives you a lesser version of the same value.

Sister Superior got to channel her teenage self and add a dose of Marilyn Manson to proceedings.

 Skills and Attributes are rated with playing card scores, although the Ace is the lowest and the King is Below the Queen.  This is sorta thematically appropriate, I guess, but it does make your hand a little trickier to read than in other card-based games like Primetime Adventures which follow a more traditional ranking system.

Players can oft to Burn cards, i.e. discard them and not redraw for the rest of the session, and use not the value of the skill but the value of the card burnt – this means that even on a terrible skill score, you might be able to still scrape an awesome result, but at a cost to your future effectiveness.  This adds a nice bit of tactical edge to an otherwise fairly random system.

Some of the game art plays up the more comedic edge, but it's mostly a lot more 70s in "Grim Glam"

The game session mostly went OK – a more comedic plot for the first half about stealing performance-grade amps from a Country & Western bar in order for an illegal concert to go ahead, then the performance of said concert before closing on a police raid.  We got to see a few of the different rules sub-systems in action, including how brutal combat could be - a Ministry of Music officer in armour with a stun stick is pretty hardy and is not going to be easilly taken down by some thug with a broken bottle.

I think the game world is worth exploring but the rules system was a bit of a non-event for me.  It wasn't bad, exactly - just a bit unmemorable, much as I find GURPS unmemorable when I use it to run Discworld. I wonder if I might try another system instead, say World of Darkness or Mutants & Masterminds.  In any case I'd be interested in going back since we ended with something of a sequel hook - the implication that there was a Starchild working for the Ministry of Music.

I had a different chair for the night.
The second game was brought to us by Molly, who for the first time in several years ran us a session of Feng Shui.  Written by notable game designer Robin D Laws, this is a game for playing Hong Kong action film-style adventures filled with kung fu battles, over-the-top dialogue, cliched characters and bad dubbing.  It's a conscious attempt at genre emulation rather than reality emulation - and it has it's own background and universe, though I've only ever encountered it in stand-alone one-offs where the cosmology didn't really matter.

Molly cast us all as bound together as family and friends who ended up united when a local "legitimate businesswoman" tried to buy out the family antiques shop, apparently on weird magical motives. Raj and Dave took on the role of the heads of the family, the mischievous granny and zen grandfather; Ailsa was their son who went to New York to be a police man but had come home with his all-American fiancee, played by Aaron, and her tween son from a previous relationship as played by Matthew.

The only person not some sort of familial connection to the others was my character, the American best friend of Ailsa's police officer.  A New York cop born and bred, I was a veritable eighties action film disaster area of pink suits, brash accents and unfunny jokes.  His combat skill was not so much in highly competent kung fu but in slapstick accidentally winning fights.  I played him with more than a touch of Dan from Street Fighter Alpha.

"Tell me where you got your haircut so I can remember never to go there."
The system is fairly straightforward and intuitive - in a way it's also unmemorable, but in a "fades into the background well" way rather than a "I can't remember a damn thing about it" way.  You roll two six sided dice, a positive and a negative one, and add your relevant stat the roll - that is,1d6-1d6+X.  This sounds weird but in reality it works a lot like 2d6+X but with a more natural middle ground of 0 rather than 7.  There are ways to add extra positive dice by spending Fortune points and exceptional rolls explode to produce even higher results, but the key engine remains more or less the same.

Molly has a lot of passion for this game and runs it as an unapologetic cheese fest.  Hong Kong action films are not a genre I'm hugely familiar with - the closest thing to it I own on DVD is Big Trouble in Little China - but her enthusiasm is quite infection and Raj in particular always gets really into it when we play this.

I think we described our session's American heroine as resembling 80s Kim Catrall, in fact.
I'm not sure it's a game we'd want to play for anything other than a one-off but it's probably something we'd do again.  It also made me re-evaluate if there's a way to use this interest in the premise of a martial arts adventure to run Fight!, a game I've had printed out abd on the to-do list for a wee bit.
You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.
The final game was a return to that love-letter to Aliens that is The Regiment: Colonial Marines.  We ran this once before and we continued as a sequel of sorts, with Molly and Ginger Dave joining our grunts as their synthetic assistant and platoon lieutenant.  Picking up just a few hours after our first session, the group find they cannot head straight back into hyper-sleep but instead must retrieve samples of the strange xenomorphs they encountered for scientific analysis.

A squad of Weyland-Yutani synthetics arrive to do the sciencing but they go all HAL (or should that be Ash?) when their programming to keep the Xenomorph information top secret conflicts with the fact that the crew have all seen them.  Cue an evening spent running around the decks of our own ship trying to prevent them from killing everyone.

Don't tell Zak S, he seems to have thing about this rules set.

One of many games based on Apocalypse World these days, so the rules are fairly light.  All you need are 2d6, some character sheets and you're good to go.  I've talked about it before so I won't bore you with the details, except to say that it's quite indie in design ethic with a lot of the games featuring social mechanics (sometimes with a sexual angle) which might not appeal to more trad players.

More important, my recent re-watching of Space: Above and Beyond had given me a big urge for a low tech militaristic sci-fi and I thought this would be a way to scratch than itch.  In theory I could run that with Traveller or 3:16 but Colonial Marines worked much pretty well last time, singing a lot more than the other two.  This seemed the game to go with to shout terms like "Semper Fi", "Here this CFB" and "Pay attention or it's AMF"

It's that or I read S:AaB fanfic and run the risk of horrifying slash combinations.

The end result was a little underwhelming to be honest.  The idea of a ship-based session was better than the execution, which just took too long to get going.  Another bug hunt on a world would have been less innovative but it also would have been a proven hit, while what we got just kinda meandered a bit.

It might still be worth trying again if I play more to the field-craft focus of the game.  We had a sequel hook here again, this time the suggestion that the Xenomorphs they encountered before were one of several bioweapon projects and that Weyland-Yutani have several other crossbreeeds in labs somewhere.  Sounds like an excuse to use the weird and wonderful Aliens of the 90s Kenner Toy Line to me!

I had a few of these figures, which aren't even vaguely appropriate an idea for kids toys if you stop and think about it...
The one-off season is now over.  We're three sessions into our block of Mutants & Masterminds and the continuing adventures of the Justice League Beyond.  After the earth-shaking politics and big mega-threats of last season, Raj has requested that we try something more grounded and street level.

So, naturally, sessions two and three crossed over the New Gods of Apokolips with the Endless of Sandman and saw the risk of the forces of darkness gaining access to the ultimate power source and conquering the universe.

The Book of Destiny was a plot point

What can I say?  Their Justice League includes an Amazonian Princess, a time-travelling French robot, the latest incarnation of Superman, an anthropomorphic personification of Spring and a god of the forge.  Many  things they are, but "street" ain't one of them.

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