Archive for the ‘games’ Category

It’s probably appropriate that I’ve taken so long to post a link to his blog post, but the always-enjoyable Rob Barker finally posted up his threepart commentary on Furnace 2010, including an actual play report of the game of Dead of Night: Bad Signal that I ran that is far more elegant and descriptive than anything I can muster up so long after the event.

And once you’re done reading that, make sure you check out his other roleplaying game-related writings, including his dabbling with the choose-your-own-adventure adaptation of the classic arcade side-scroller, R-Type, not to mention his astute write-up of the Primetime Adventures series I started over in Sheffield a month or two back.

One thing I’ve been wrestling with recently is the notion of background material in rpgs, and how we can best convey it to a) the reader and b) the player. This has come about because, unlike Dead of Night, a couple of my current projects have background of their own, and I’m pondering how I can get my own ideas about a setting across in a useful and relevant way.

Historically in rpgs, the way this has been done is very much top down. The background was presented via the medium of rulebook and supplement to the GM (and often the GM alone, because, you known, campaign secrets/spoilers abound). The GM would then convey the setting material to the players by some nebulous and unspecified means – perhaps by showing and telling in the game, perhaps by handouts or maybe even by homework of reading vast reams of text.

I used to do this, but inevitably grew frustrated when the players didn’t always pay attention or get onboard with the background – but why should they? They had no buy in, no investment, no connection in their own to the world . I remember Weapons of the Gods strove someway to alleviate this, with aspects of the background that the players could ‘buy’ as their own, almost giving ownership of different areas of knowledge to different players. But in many respects this still wound up with the same problems as the GM imparting knowledge – fundamentally the players had to do the legwork by reading up on all the background to see what interested them in the first place.

Of course, the pendulum has swung the other way somewhat. Many games nowadays don’t have set background at all (or only very roughly sketched background) and instead the players create the background around the table as part of play. Burning Empires coined the phrase ‘world burning’ and the name has kinda stuck. This gets all of the players onboard, investing them in the setting by harnessing and using their own ideas and creations.

But sometimes you don’t want to make up the setting, sometimes you want to play in an established setting that you know and love (but the players might not). What to do then? Is there a compromise? How can you create buy in and investment without necessarily creating from whole cloth?

A guest post by James Mullen. Part 2 can be found here.

One thing can be said about the Endangered Species campaign (inspired, you’ll recall, by the Walking Dead and World War Z): it went in some surprising directions. One of the characters started as a notorious criminal, but by the end he was hailed as a spiritual leader for Europe and had tens of thousands of followers… then he lost it all and sacrificed himself to save the world. All of that emerged through the game play, as PCs responded to the initial situation and their responses created new situations, in a recursive cycle. The story boot-strapped itself from one episode to the next and we never had to insert a new plot line or force a change in the characters’ lives. Even when the story drifted from pure survival horror to political intrigue and conspiracy for an entire episode, we never broke the system and Dead of Night supported us all the way.

Risk Checks, or life & death situations, can be about more than just injury or capture; anything a character values can be placed at Risk, whether that is their reputation, their ambition, their authority or their sanity. For example, if your PC climbed to power on a ladder of lies and murders, then any threat to expose their past can be a Risk for them: they might have to use ‘Obscure’ to hide the truth or ‘Dissuade’ to put the investigators off the trail. Also, just because there is no ‘sanity check’ mechanic in Dead of Night doesn’t mean you can’t make the equivalent in your game, if it seems appropriate: push Risk Checks on players when they encounter the unworldly so that they have to use ‘Identify’ to find a rational explantaion for their experience. In a long game, it’s important to make sure that phyicial rolls (Pursue, Escape, Assault & Protect) aren’t the only source of Risk or else players will become wise to that and only create characters that focus on those attributes at the expense of everything else.

Breaking up the horror with episodes of mundane life is a good tool for keeping things fresh and avoiding ‘terror fatigue’, where the PCs just accept the situation and adopt it as the new norm; don’t be afraid to let the horror fade in & out of the story over the course of a campaign, or even a long one-off scenario. The system supports all kinds of tension and by exploring other types of threat or loss, you can give the scenes of horror more impact and significance.

The next plan, for 2011, is to run a campaign styled as a series rather than a serial: the same PCs from episode to episode but facing a new threat every week against the backdrop of a consistent world, such as Kolchak, The X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

A guest post by James Mullen. Part 1 can be found here.

Playing the first ever Dead of Night campaign taught us a lot more about Bad Habits and how to get the most out of them:

First, if PCs have more than one Bad Habit each at the start of a campaign (or even a one-off), then players must be supported in making them as diverse as possible; encourage them to choose Bad Habits that showcase different, even contradictory aspects of the character. If two or more of a character’s Bad Habits occupy the same thematic ground, then opportunities for earning Survival points are reduced, but it is a very easy trap to fall into; for example, ‘Quick Tempered’ and ‘Hates Women’ are both demonstrations of how the character doesn’t get on well with others, so that PC is likely to face situations where both conditions could apply. If they had used one of those Bad Habits to show a different side of their character, they would have almost doubled the number of situations where it was possible for them to earn a Survival Point.

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Earlier in the year, James Mullen and his gaming group embarked on something that had not been done before – a campaign of Dead of Night. In July I asked him to talk about the set-up for the Endangered Species campaign, and James laid out some of the rules tweaks that he’d be using to maintain the game over a series of sessions. With the campaign now laid to rest, I’ve asked James to write a series of guest posts reflecting on how Dead of Night worked as a campaign.

The Endangered Species campaign wound up a few months ago and Andrew has kindly asked me to reflect on what we learned from the experience. If you recall, I implemented an extra rule module called Baggage, which acted as an extra life for characters, allowing them to lose something really important to them instead of dying, but it also allowed players to roll 3d10 instead of 2d10 and pick the best 2 results when they narrated the Baggage into the action. During play, we modified this slightly, adding the rule that if you used Baggage to provide a bonus but failed the roll, you immediately lost the Baggage, unless you spent a Survival Point.

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I’ve added a Downloads site to the website where you can find, it may surprise you to learn, all the various downloads that are scattered around the site – previews of games, character sheets and so forth.

Not terribly exciting in itself, but I’ve also added three new downloads: a blank character sheet that can be edited, and complete pre-gen character sheets for Dust and Unhallowed, two of the scenarios from Dead of Night second ed.

So with pre-gens in hand, Dust and Unhallowed should be runnable at the drop of a metaphorical hat. Fancy that.

My good friend and Dead of Night contributor, James Mullen (he of the excellent Cold Fusion scenario in the second edition book and of a guest post on running a Dead of Night campaign on this very site) has started a new website, Groundhoggoth, which he describes as a “lair of good games.”

Amongst the many homebrewed micro games (many of them quite delicious) and scenarios is James’ pseudo-LARP Dead of Night scenario inspired by the The Mist. Now, whilst I’ve not had the pleasure of playing the scenario for myself, I’ve heard many a scare story about it so can recommend purely on that basis.

And whilst you’re over at James’ site, make sure you check out some of his other games – I particularly recommend Never to Die, which is best described as a “chav dungeon crawl.” Need I say more.

The game I’m hoping to publish next is Lost Days of Memories & Madness, which was my Game Chef entry back in 2007 (the same contest that Paul Tevis’ A Penny for My Thoughts came out of) that turned out to be rather fun in play. Rather unusually for me, I’ve not gone about commissioning art and then writing the game, but have written the game and am now commissioning art.

I’ve admired the art of George Cotronis for a while now, even since he did the cover for Don’t Lose Your Mind, in fact. There was something sinister, otherworldly and faintly insane lurking beneath the surface of his art that was unique, and a perfect fit for Memories & Madness.

Anyway, here’s the rambling art brief I sent him on Monday – hopefully I’ll be able to share some of the ensuing illustrations soon.

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One of the games I ran last weekend at Concrete Cow was one of the scenarios I’m writing for a Dead of Night scenario supplement, Bad Signal.

The set-up was simple: it’s 1975 and Arizona is experiencing a record heatwave along with accompanying weird shit like electronics malfunctioning, tempers fraying and a weird signal in the static. Malc described it as Convoy meets the Crazies, although I like to think it had a fair bit in common with Duel too.

All of the players played truckers, all with complex personal lives of some sort or another:

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In a couple of weeks time I’ll be at Concrete Cow 10.5, a friendly little convention down in Milton Keynes. I’ve been plenty of times, but to celebrate the recent release of Dead of Night second edition, this time they’ve invited me as their guest of honour!

As part of my guestly duties I’ll be running a full panoply of games, including two games that will feature in the forthcoming Dead of Night scenarios book (which I talked about here) and a playtest of my Dead of Night hack, XVIIth Legion (which I’ll talk about soon).

Here’s a look at the games I’m running, and a link to Concrete Cow’s website. Hope to see some of you there! And if you can’t make it, I’m running the same games at Furnace in Sheffield at the end of October.

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