Lovecraftesque – actual play report

Actual Play report of Lovecraftesque

As played at Seven Hills in April 2015

Players: Josh, Fergus and Ric

[In the setup we agree the basic parameters for the game, in open discussion – the only time that discussion is permitted.] We decided to set the game in the Himalayas. Off the back of that, we decided to make our Witness an explorer. We wanted a classic Lovecraftian game, so we decided on 1890s for the era. His reason for being in the Himalayas seemed pretty obvious, so we just needed a personality trait (we went for arrogant) and a source of strength (we decided he was driven by the need to prove himself to an explorer’s club back in London). Finally, we needed a name (this always seems to come last!) and we decide on Sir Arthur Worthington.

[Fergus had an idea for a starting clue, so we started the first scene with him as Narrator, Ric as Witness.] We began with Sir Arthur, already high in the Himalayas, trudging through thick snow with a retinue of sherpas carrying his equipment and supplies. A blizzard blows in, and Sir Arthur can barely see past the end of his nose. [Fergus comments: Already the power of having a Watcher was beginning to show as Josh brought the hostility of the environment to life, describing numbing extremities and the suffocating thin air.] Sir Arthur follows what little he can see of the path, to a large, blocky building of black stone, clinging to the edge of a precipice. He has lost the sherpas, and it’s only getting colder, so with trepidation Sir Arthur goes inside. Within he finds a dark room lit by yak fat candles, and filled with saffron-robed monks. The walls are carved with scenes of monsters. One of the monks greets him silently as he enters, and beckons him to follow. The monk leads him to what can best be described as an audience chamber, where a saffron-robed boy is waiting on a dais, backed by more carvings of strange demonic monsters. The boy explains that they have been expecting him, that there is a prophecy that foretold the coming of “Siratha”. He will save the world from a great evil. [This was the first clue.] Baffled, Sir Arthur agrees to the monk’s suggestion that he should rest now, and goes to sleep on a simple bed within the monastery.

[The next scene is Ric’s to narrate, with me (Josh) playing Sir Arthur.] Sir Arthur wakes up to find the monastery empty. Nobody seems to be around – the monks are gone. Wondering if he has dreamed the whole thing, or lost his mind, he wanders through the monastery, trying to retrace his steps to the exit. En route, he stops to look at those carvings he saw before. He stares in disbelief as he recognises a perfect likeness of his own face amongst the carvings on the wall. [Second clue.] Although Sir Arthur has barely exchanged words with anyone, we have discovered more about him from his inner reflections.

[Next up, I’m the Narrator, Fergus is Witness.] Sir Arthur Worthington makes his way up the mountainside. He has lost his sherpas, and the monks are all gone. He has no supplies. He has little hope, really, but his desire to prove himself drives him on. As he trudges up the path, he spots a small building – a hut – crouching in the snow. Within, he finds a comfortable little home, complete with fireplace, bed, a rather nice desk. This will make a good place to camp for the night. Idly flicking through one of the books he finds on a shelf, he is baffled to see that it is entitled “Ye Journale of A Worthington”. Within are various coded writings, together with the occasional unencoded note such as “Tried it again today without success. Perhaps tomorrow.” [Third Clue.] He tosses the book on the fire, but as it burns, a terrible, fiery symbol appears, crystal clear within the flames. [Fourth Clue, created using a card – “reveal a Clue that has no rational explanation”.]

[Fergus is Narrator next, Ric is Witness. Fergus chooses a Reprisals scene.] Sir Arthur wakes up in the hut. He still has no food, no hope, no ideas. He opens another of the books – unbelievably, it’s the same Journal from before. He opens another – the same. They’re all the same. [This is a re-use of an existing clue, so doesn’t count as the clue for the scene.] Setting out into the snow, he spots a couple of scavenger birds flying in the distance, periodically descending to the ground. Realising that there may be food where those birds are landing, he heads in that direction. When he arrives, he finds one of his sherpas. He has been brutally killed. He appears to have been hit with something – a massive impact – and his face is a mask of terror. Most disturbing of all, his entrails have been torn out and arranged in the pattern of the symbol Sir Arthur saw in the fire. [Again, this is clue re-use.] A trail in the snow reveals where his body was – presumably – dragged to this spot.

[Ric is Narrator, I’m Witness.] Sir Arthur is filled with horror at the sherpa’s fate, but pushes his fear down. He knows he will surely starve if he can’t find food. It is possible – just possible – that the other sherpas are at the end of that trail. So he has little choice: he follows the trail. At the end, he finds a cave in the ice. Inside, he finds a package of perfectly butchered meat, no bones within. [Fifth Clue. This triggers the end of part 1, which means all new Clues from now on must have no rational explanation.] Returning with haste to the hut, and desperately trying not to think about what might have butchered the meat, or what (or who… please say not who) the meat might have come from, he cooks the meat and eats it.

[Ric Narrator, I’m Witness. Another Reprisals scene, this time played with a card.] The next morning, he awakens to find that the hut has been ransacked torn apart. The desk, smashed to matchwood. His remaining equipment, gone. The books, torn to shreds. And over the fireplace, daubed in blood, the symbol from the fire. [Another clue re-use.]

[Me Narrator, Fergus Witness.] Emerging into the snow, Sir Arthur finds that there’s a trail heading away from the hut. Looking at it closely, the trail seems to be made up of countless clawed footprints. No living animal could have made these prints. But a thick fog cloaks the mountainside, and though he hears a terrible, cracking, bubbling noise from deep within the fog, he does not dare to pursue it. [Clue 6.]

[Fergus Narrator, Ric Witness. Once again, a card is played, this time “Change Location”.] Once the fog has cleared, Sir Arthur goes looking for his stuff and spots some of it, scattered down a sheer slope near the hut. Clambering down to retrieve his stuff, he discovers a deep, dark cave.

[Ric Narrator, I’m Witness.] Heading into the cave, Sir Arthur comes upon the monk he met at the beginning of our story. Enigmatic to the last, the waiting monk gestures him to follow deeper into the cave. Sir Arthur follows, and after a time emerges through a carved stone doorway into an underground room, where the saffron-robed boy awaits, this time wearing a golden mask. The boy removes his mask to reveal Sir Arthur’s own face staring back at him. [Clue 7.] Sir Arthur screams the scream of the unhinged.

[I’m Narrator, Ric is Witness.] Sir Arthur is numb with terror, but continues into the depths of the cave. He passes through another arch, carved with the same monsters he saw in the monastery. He finds himself at the top of a deep shaft, with winding stone steps carved into the side, descending deep into the earth. But it is what is carved into the walls that horrifies him: a written history of previous pilgrims to this mountain, horribly reminiscent of dreams that Sir Arthur has had long before his journey to the Himalayas. Or thought he had. Were they dreams? [Clue 8.]

[With the 8th Clue, part 2 ends. It could have ended earlier, if the Witness had decided to voluntarily initiate the Journey into Darkness, but he didn’t. Fergus is therefore Narrator for a Force Majeure scene, which proves rather simple.] Sir Arthur stands at the top of the winding steps, and knows he must go no further, his innate determination rising within himself. But then he feels a shove at his back, as the saffron-robed monk pushes him over the edge, and he falls, down into the darkness.

[We now begin the Journey into Darkness. Since I can’t remember each individual step of the Journey, I’ve written it as a single scene, though different parts were narrated by different people.] Sir Arthur comes to at the bottom of the shaft. He lights a torch, and looks around. To his horror, he sees that the carvings that had described his dreams continue even down here. But now they are describing the events of the last few days. [Clue re-use.] There is a further staircase leading down into greater darkness. Sir Arthur follows it, plunging further down into the earth. He is feeling a mix of terror and exaltation now. He feels that this is his destiny. He was born to fulfil this destiny, and the fools at the explorer’s club will regret laughing at him. He finds himself at an altar, where a copy of the Journale of A Worthington sits waiting for him. But now he can understand the coded text. He reads it – it is a ritual, which he begins, chanting wildly. There is a little bowl of flesh. He eats it. A portal opens, and he steps through.

[With the Journey over, we briefly conferred over who should do the Final Horror. As it happens, two of us had an idea, but Fergus said that his was perhaps a little too optimistic an outcome to the story, so I stepped forward to narrate the Final Horror, with Ric as Witness, for all the good it did him.] Sir Arthur emerged onto a cold mountain peak. Before him was a great cauldron of blood. The saffron-robed monk was there, and gestured to the cauldron. Knowing now that his destiny would be fulfilled, Sir Arthur drank from the cauldron, deeply. But now he felt strange. His limbs began to change. His voice was changing, his hands warping into tentacles. He tried to scream, but in place of his voice was a terrible, cracking, bubbling noise. The saffron robed monk places a golden chain about his neck, and leads him down to join the other monstrous creatures, his predecessors on the mountain.

[The Epilogue rotates the roles so that someone not involved in the Final Horror gets to be Narrator. That’s Fergus, so he narrates what becomes of the Final Horror, and Ric gets to narrate the fate of the Witness (in this case, his descendant.] In the Epilogue, Sir Arthur’s son grows up and becomes a geologist. He, too, decides to journey to the Himalayas. We ended with the monster that was Sir Arthur watching, wordlessly, as his son arrived to enact the ritual.

Roleplaying the silly way

I want to talk about a couple of games I played this year that deviated quite dramatically from the script of what I’d normally play. Both of them pretty silly games, in different ways. Both of them really enjoyable.

The first is Grunting: the Race for Fire, by Jennifer Spencer. The game is about playing cartoonish cavemen on a quest to get fire for their tribe. The game has some unfortunate aspects, notably some pretty sexist tropes in the background material (which our GM, Triskellian, mercilessly stripped out: quite right too). But I’m here to talk about what I enjoyed about it, so I won’t dwell on those.

Grunting requires the players (not the GM) to speak only using a limited list of caveman words, which are provided at the start of the game. The words are pretty elementary, stuff like “Bam” (stone) or Nurrr (dark). Even when speaking to the GM you must only use these words. (You are allowed to write notes to the GM in your normal language, but it’s more fun if you don’t.) This simple rule is the core of the game, and almost the entirety of what makes the game fun.

I don’t mind telling you, when I started playing the game I found it next to impossible to understand my fellow players. Everything they said involved a look up, furrowed brow, followed by the same again as I attempted to reply. The game could really have helped with this by providing an alphabetised list of words (alphabetised by caveman word and by english word). Instead they are organised by conceptual groups, which is no help at all when you’re trying to translate from cave speak. But after a while, I started to really get the hang of the vocabulary and the game began to flow.

The actual action in the game is pretty simple. Kill a sabre tooth tiger by throwing a rock. Steal fire from the other cave-folk by lighting a burning torch. That kind of thing. But it is surprisingly entertaining just sitting trying to explain your plan to the other players in cave-speak, or trying to understand them. Indeed, there is entertainment value in trying to come up with a plan that can be communicated in cave speak. Moreover, you can make up your own words, but of course you can only explain them to other players using existing words, which is itself fun and sometimes hilarious.

The other game I want to talk about was made up (not published) and run for me at a con by Cuthbertcross. It is called Burt-EE, and is basically Wall-EE the roleplaying game. Now I haven’t seen Wall-EE so you’ll have to bear with me if this sounds like an excessively elaborate explanation. You’re all playing service robots on board this massive cruise liner in space. There’s various kinds of service robot: the little welder-bots that whizz around on monorail tracks, the bulky storage-bots with a belly full of tools, the zippy little butler-bots that serve drinks, and so forth. They all have amusing names that reference their function like Burn-EE the welder bot.

Anyway. Before going further it’s probably important to mention that we played this game with an eight year-old, one of Cuthbertcross’s kids. I can actually hear some of you wincing at that. But the game went perfectly, and indeed was maybe even enhanced by her presence. There isn’t too much to say about this really but I thought it worth saying!

The action of the game was, again, very simple. Get given tasks to do, do the tasks. Slowly become aware of something awry with the ship. Decide what to do about this. The fun came from your typical childish pretend-play stuff: talk in a robot voice. Pretend to be someone whose whole role in life is to be a storage container, and imagine what their perspective on life might be. Come up with innovative uses for your single super-power (you can probably imagine what these were from the robot descriptions above). Make lots of puns ending in EE.

Bringing it all together, I have been surprised at how much enjoyment I can get from just silly, light-hearted play based on a simple (though unusual) concept and just basically messing around in character. I have always assumed I would find such play rather tedious, but in practice they were immensely enjoyable. Indeed, I only agreed to play Burt-EE to make up the numbers (sorry Cuthbertcross, if you’re reading this!) but found it was actually one of my favourite games of the con.

What’s my point? Roleplaying games throw all sorts of elaborate mechanics and high-concept stuff around, hoping to engage their jaded audience. But these light-hearted concepts encourage players to discard their usual inhibitions and throw themselves into make-believe. The simple pleasure of doing a silly voice and playing a silly character, the stuff that you enjoyed as a kid and maybe the germ of what got you into roleplaying in the first place: imagination.

Comedy Racism in Historical Games

There is a genre[*] of roleplaying game that covers a mix of historical games that are trying to be faithful (in a strictly non-academic way[**]) to “real life” and pulp games set in historic-ish settings, more like Pirates of the Caribbean than the actual pirates of the Caribbean, if you see what I mean. This genre is pretty popular, at least amongst the internet forums I occasionally frequent. It also commonly includes elements of racism.

Woah there Rabalias! Where did that come from? Ok, let me say up front: I am not saying these games are racist, I’m not saying the people who play and enjoy them are racist. I’m talking about fictional racism.

Games set in World War 2 that include casual jingoism towards the “Jerries”. Games set in the old West where black slaves are commonplace. All manner of historical racism, sometimes brutal but usually casual and even humorous. These are fun settings for games, that many people enjoy. And of course, many roleplayers would not feel right about playing games in such settings without including the racism from the period. So we see players having their characters act racist for “realism”‘s sake. Usually this is done with a knowing smile – I’m not racist, the smile says, and this is all just good fun, why don’t you say something racist back and we can all laugh about it?

What I have discovered is: I am not at all comfortable with this. It is just a story, but I don’t want to be in a story where my character is a racist. I don’t want to play in a group where racism is common, even if it is strictly in-fiction, and even, perhaps especially, where it is done with tongue in cheek and a knowing smile. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and it inhibits me from fully taking part in the game. I can’t shake the feeling that by portraying heroic characters, or even just sympathetic characters, who are not merely just incidentally and occasionally racist, but frequently and casually racist, towards real historical victims of racism, I am on some level endorsing or taking part in that racism.

Unfortunately for me, games don’t typically advertise if they will be including such themes. I am lucky in that the people I roleplay with day-to-day don’t seem to be into playing comedy racists, but I can’t be sure when attending a convention or playing online that I won’t come across this. Sadly, I think I may have to avoid games from “historical” settings with notorious racist attitudes, unless I feel confident the group will tread very lightly indeed over those issues.

[*] Possibly too strong a word, but read it broadly.

[**] In my experience, such games are far more likely to be based on fictional accounts of history than actual historical knowledge. The result is that the social attitudes reflect those seen in movies and books. How racist were people historically? They may or may not have been as racist as the characters in “historical” games.

40 Days of Role-Playing



They say it takes 40 days to form a new habit.  *They* also say 21 days, 1000 days and a lot inbetween.  But 40 Days sounds like long enough to be challenging, but short enough to be manageable.

Inspired by the 40 Days of Dating project I got to wondering what I would like to do for 40 days solid (and be public about doing it).  Well obviously the answer is role playing and I got to thinking how I would also like to spend 40 days creating and role-playing in a shared world. So along with with Admiral Rabalias and Black Rat I will be committing to a tweets worth of role-playing related content every day for 40 days from 7th September 2013.  We will be running the project over on G+ in a specially created community here.

We have drawn inspiration from games like Microscope and Archipelago II for a shared world creation system but also left ideas for character creation and scenes fluid to allow us to experiment with the format.  I have no doubt we will be using the opportunity to micro play test bits of system we have been toying with for a while. I can’t say a great deal more as we haven’t formally started yet but there are already a few posts up discussing rules and admin.

The one thing I can say is that we have chosen a genre of Star-Spanning Cyberpunk.

Please drop by, have a look at the project and read the post on public participation here.

A tweet might not seem very much and I am hoping I’ll write a lot more than that but at the moment my days are erratic, sometimes I have lots of time and sometime my laptop gets soaked in baby vomit and I have to let it dry out.

The Hoard

We moved into our new house last week.

Here is a nice picture of the hall the day we moved in. Pretty messy, but you can see we’ve got some nice wooden cabinets built into the wall.


…I wonder what we could put in those.


Mmmmm, board games.


Mmmmm, roleplaying games.

I found another couple of boxes of games after these pictures were taken. It’s safe to say that we’ve run out of game space in these cabinets now. I’m not sure what we’re going to do when we inevitably buy more.

We have a whole shelf of D&D (spanning several editions), which we rarely touch now. But those are memorabilia. They must be preserved. Same goes for the White Wolf books.

I guess we’re just going to have to get another cabinet.

Ideas for 2013

Where was I? Oh, yes. Finished reviewing 2012. Time to talk about 2013.

I’m nearing the end of the Disaster Strikes! playtest, so first priority will be to get the game finished and decide how to publish it. Kickstarter, maybe? Watch this space.

But DS! isn’t the only idea I’m working on. Oh, no indeed. Here are some of the frontrunners.

Revolution! Extending the concept of my RPG Geek contest entry, Farmtopia, this will be a game about overthrowing a regime and living with the consequences afterwards. Like Farmtopia, the game mechanics will focus on power and status, the consequences of revolution, and a freeform, democratic sort of conflict resolution. But considerably fleshed out, and taken beyond the “Animal Farm” scenario. (Even though that will always be my favourite.)

The Shadow Game (working title). This is a game about having a dark side, and fighting against it. The basic deal is that two players “run” a single character, while a GM-type figure controls the rest of the world. The GM throws challenges and quandaries at the character. The “main” player must deal with them while the “shadow” player pushes the character towards dark deeds, offering power as the carrot, and loss of control as the stick.

The WTF? game (working title; working on with Admiral Frax). This is a game about going through the looking glass. Think Neverwhere, Utopia, and suchlike. This is a genre that has been done before, but we want to fix two things about it: the tendency to disempower the players as they find themselves lost in a world they don’t understand, outgunned by the all-powerful NPCs; and the reliance on massive GM prep to create a world that the players can plumb. We have ideas for radical new game mechanics which will turn all of this on its head, without losing the fundamental “what the f*ck” element of mystery and discovery.

The traitor game (working title). This is a game designed to allow you to play a tight-knit community but where some of the people in it are secretly traitors, without all the tedious stuff that normally goes along with treachery. Basically I want to create a situation where nobody (including the players themselves) knows which characters are traitors but the game mechanics incentivise people to skulduggery of a sort that might be explained by them being a traitor. There’s a kind of schrodinger’s traitor effect where you might or might not actually be a traitor. However (important!) some people don’t like being a traitor and there will be mechanics to allow them to avoid this and still participate in the game.

A Game of Popes. “When you play the game of popes, you win or you die”. Silly game concept based on watching the Borgias at the same time that Francis I was being elected. Game will revolve around screwing the other proto-popes over through skulduggery.

Not sure where I’ll find time to write all this while moving house and having a baby.

2012 in review

As I’ve mentioned previously, 2012 was my first year of doing New Year resolutions. I had some moderately challenging resolutions to complete, and I did pretty well with them if I do say so myself.

1. Play at least ten games (roleplaying or board) that I have never played before. EXCEEDED!

In 2013 I played six new board games:
– A Game of Thrones board game
– Cosmic Encounter board game
– Qwirkle
– Dominion
– Mansions of Madness
– Chaos in the Old World

…and fifteen new roleplaying games:
– Apocalypse World (at the mid-year point I’d only done intro sessions; I’m now two sessions into a campaign)
– Archipelago II
– The Extraordinary adventures of Baron Munchausen
– Lady Blackbird
– Microscope
– Trollbabe
– Leverage
– 1001 Nights
– Don’t Rest Your Head
– Hot War
– Age of Arthur
– Wordplay
– Trail of Cthulhu
– Monsterhearts
– Dungeon World

2012 pretty much heralded my full induction into the world of indie games, after a tentative start in 2011. But trad is neither gone forgotten; I’m still running my Dark Heresy campaign and playing in a WFRP campaign (albeit spliced with Apocalypse World).

2. play a full roleplaying session, not just a one to one, entirely over Skype (or G Chat). ACHIEVED!

Done! I ran Disaster Strikes! for Indie+, but sadly ended up with only one player (sob!) so this didn’t count in the end, despite being a fairly successful session (and a first for one-on-one DS!). But I’ve since started an online Apocalypse World campaign with three friends, using G Chat. This has worked very well indeed and fills me with hope for not losing touch with roleplaying friends when I move to the countryside in May.

3. Read at least ten sci-fi and/or fantasy authors I’ve not read before, including at least five women. ACHIEVED/EXCEEDED!

In 2012 I read the following sci-fi/fantasy books by authors I’d never read before:
– Spin State by Chris Moriarty (technically I started this in 2011)
– Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
– The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
– This Alien Shore by CS Friedman
– The True Game by Sheri S Tepper
– Faith and Fire by James Swallow
– The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
– Green by Jay Lake
– A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M Miller Jr
– Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey.
– Legend by David Gemmell (seriously can’t believe I’ve never read him before – though frankly I was not that impressed with this one)
– Stories of your life and others by Ted Chiang
– Subterfuge, edited by Ian Whates (lots of authors here, but doesn’t quite count ’cause it’s short stories. Whatever, I’m putting it on the list.)
– The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction III, edited by George Mann (same comment applies)

I’m pretty pleased with this. But for 2013 I’d like to increase my overall rate of reading; I did read some other books besides the above but my total books read for the year is fairly pitiful. I need to find more time for reading at weekends and in evenings (I do most of my reading on my commute).

4. Write a complete roleplaying system. EXCEEDED!

At the mid-year point I was partway through designing Quick Draw. I have now adapted that system for use with Disaster Strikes! and bolted on a stats system, and rules for structuring the story. I released a full beta test version to playtesters on New Year’s Eve (phew!) and have already received my first playtest report, from a total stranger in Ohio. It’s pretty damn cool to think that people I never met halfway across the planet have enjoyed playing my game, and the feedback has been very useful too. So thankyou Jay, if you’re reading this.

In addition, I entered the 24-hour roleplaying game design contest on RPG Geek with Farmtopia, my story game based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Next year I hope to develop this further into a game about revolutions more generally (with Farmtopia as a module). I’ve got heaps of other ideas, too. I’m hoping 2013 can be the year of designing stuff.

5. Complete my murder mystery for Undying King games. FAILED! I’m wondering whether it’s time to admit defeat on this. I just don’t seem to be making time for it. Every time I have a good long stretch of time I’ve ended up focusing on something else. I’m not quite ready to call it dead yet, though.

Other significant stuff from a gaming point of view:
– I went to my first proper roleplaying convention (Furnace in Sheffield)
– I went to London Indie Meet for the first time (but hopefully not the last)
– I (we) launched Black Armada and got it firmly established
– I created House of Ill Repute, a political playset for Fiasco

It’s been a busy year!

Roleplaying over the internets

Today I ran Disaster Strikes! over Google Hangouts for Indie+. I have roleplayed over Skype/G+ before, but never with anything more than a very rudimentary set of mechanics, and only with people I knew quite well. So this was a new experience for me.

I was feeling pretty trepidatious; nobody had signed up in advance for my Indie+ event. Was this normal? Would there be a last-minute rush, or would I sit like a lemon for fifteen minutes and then give up? It turned out partway between the two. A couple of minutes before start time I got my first sign up. Woot! And then a second very shortly after. I started feeling quite excited – maybe this game would go ahead after all. But I think maybe my second signup had come in via whatever the google equivalent of chat roulette is, because he signed off as soon as we started talking about the game. At least he wasn’t confronted by an image of a penis, which I gather is the usual chat roulette experience.

Undeterred, we decided to go ahead with the game with just one player. I was quite unsure as to whether this would work – the game is really designed for 3-4 people. Well, the good news is that after a fairly tentative start things took off pretty well, with explosion and killer AIs aplenty. Indeed, we had one of the more satisfying DS! finales that I can recall, as our intrepid fire safety officer put the lives of innocent bystanders first, getting them off the oil rig and only jumping into the ocean at the last, on fire and with several broken limbs. We even had the cliffhanger ending as the killer AI seemed to escape to attack the hospital our hero was installed in for the epilogue.

Anyway, I digress slightly. We were using an app called anywhereboardgames, a free google hangout app which I can recommend. It provides you with a virtual tabletop upon which you can create various game objects – in this case, playing cards and tokens. The game comes with a bunch of pre-created ones but it’s reasonably easy to create your own; all you need do is create images for each of the faces of whatever it is you’re using (front and back for cards, presumably multiple sides if you want dice or whatever). It will let you stack and shuffle cards, and you can create a screen to hide your cards/tokens/etc behind. Once one person has set it up in a google hangout, everyone else automatically gets access to it. Basically it’s your ideal tool if you need something more than dice (for which I gather that catchyourhare is considered the place to go). My only complaint is that it doesn’t work with internet explorer, although I may be the last person on earth who still uses IE.

I had hoped to get a sense of how easy G+ roleplaying is with multiple people, which I obviously didn’t do in the event. The brief chat session I had with my mystery person who disappeared seemed to be working ok, but it was quite short and not the best test. We also briefly had a fourth person drop in, which revealed how badly the sound can go if you don’t all have headsets – we immediately started getting echoes from his speakers, which had previously not been a problem. So I would recommend getting headsets if you want to try this at home.

All in all though I was quite pleased with the experience. It was disappointing not to get a full set of players, but getting to roleplay with someone in Latvia more than made up for it, and the game was great fun. Will probably give indie+ a go again next year if I have the time.

Furnace rpg convention – review

Admiral Frax and I headed into the hills of Sheffield on Friday night for Furnace, a smallish (about 80 people) roleplaying convention focused exclusively on tabletop gaming.

We have been doing what we refer to as “the con”, a gathering of about two dozen of our friends for roleplaying purposes every year for about a decade, but this was the first proper convention we had attended. Furnace is a fairly intense affair – three gaming slots on the first day and two on the second, leaving the Sunday evening for everyone to race off home. This meant that the games were fast and focused, which was largely a good thing. Despite this, it didn’t feel rushed, and most of the games I played in found time for a coffee break or two.

I managed to play in four games using systems I’d never tried before, which was great for my new year resolution to try lots of new games, and all four were an excellent standard of both GMs and players. The venue was the Garrison Hotel in Sheffield, a former, uh, garrison on the north side of the city. The place is full of little nooks and crannies where gaming can happen in a relatively quiet environment (including some rather spiffy little jail cells which are just big enough for a decent sized tabletop and nicely separated off from the surrounding area, if slightly hard to extract yourself from when you want to go for a coffee break). It’s pretty labyrinthine, though by the end of the weekend we’d just about worked the place out. And the food is somewhat above mediocre, which is high praise when you consider how bad such venues can be. Also, their real ale menu is a big bonus.

Partway through there was a raffle in which, unprecedently, I won something – specifically, a copy of Apocalypse World. Yay! Frax also got given a free copy of Witch by the author, who I can only assume was so impressed by her enthusiasm for the game that he temporarily turned into Ebeneezer Scrooge at the end of a Christmas Carol. Looking forward to giving this game a try!

Frax and I were both nervous because it was our first con, because we knew absolutely nobody who was attending, and because we had both decided not only to GM but to run our own games (When the Dark is Gone and Disaster Strikes! respectively). We needn’t have worried – Furnace is very welcoming, and we both got players who threw themselves into our games, as well as quite a few interested bystanders asking about our games in the sidelines. The con seems to be quite a tight-knit community, where everyone knows everyone else, but we didn’t find it hard to strike up conversations with people and by the end we didn’t feel like we were outsiders at all.

Games-wise, I played:

Hot War, a d10-based throw-in-as-many-stats-as-you-can type game, in this case set in the “ashtrays in space” (as the GM evocatively described it) setting of the Heracles corporate spaceship. Hot War seemed like a decent system, though I found out later its real strength is faction-based conflict, something which didn’t really leap out at the time. I had a lot of fun playing my bigoted (anti-replicant) security chief and shooting many people in the face.

Trail of Cthulhu, the cthulhu version of Gumshoe, in this case set in the WWI Royal Flying Corps. Lots of fun shooting at German planes and wrangling demonic creatures. I like the way ToC avoids dice rolls when you don’t want them by paying points from skill pools to auto-pass, though remain slightly suspicious that these pools tend to run out partway through leaving you a bit stuck, unless the pacing is just right.

Age of Arthur, a FATE-based post-roman pre-arthurian dark ages Britain game (due to be released this December). I really enjoyed this setting, which blended Roman-esque feel with low fantasy, exactly the kind of fantasy setting I enjoy. AoA includes a mass combat system which allows generals to duel at the strategic level while individual heroes strike decisive blows at the tactical level – a nice balance. One to watch out for.

Wordplay, another grab-the-stats-that-apply game (d6-based this time), in this case set in a sort of post-apocalyptic setting where it started raining one day and never stopped. Oh, and there were angels. I really liked the idea of this setting and I always enjoy a good post-apocalyptic game, so this was always going to go well. My english Clint Eastwood-type gunslinger got to do a lot of, er, gunslinging, which was lots of fun.

Disaster Strikes!, which you can read about elsewhere on this site. We ran a zombie plague set in a British theme park, a rather over the top schlock action fest, which seemed to be enjoyed by all concerned. I’ll write up the new mechanic I was testing, the disaster pool, in another article.

All in all, a great time was had. I’d recommend Furnace to anyone looking for a con where you can rack in more tabletop gaming than you can shake a very big stick at, all in one weekend, and for the very reasonable price of £20 (plus accomodation). Especially reasonable if you receive over half the ticket price in free games.

Black Armada’s reviews

I’m thinking of revamping the way we do reviews here. I’ve done a handful of board game reviews, and I have plans to do a bunch of rpg reviews, but the one RPG I’ve reviewed so far (Microscope) left me feeling a bit dissatisfied, so I’ve paused for thought.

Fact is, Microscope is a really great game. I felt uncomfortable giving it great marks though, because I don’t think it’s particularly great as a roleplaying game. It’s just something else entirely.

Looking back, I should probably just have changed its category to “history building game” or something, and had done with it. But anyway, it got me thinking that a rating out of five really isn’t good enough for a nuanced review. The text helps to convey the detail, but I’d like to break the rating up a bit.

We already have “type” (strategic card game etc), # players and time to play, plus text on gameplay and components and a written summary.

Here’s what I’m thinking of adding:

Complexity, from 1 to 5. 1 is “you can pick this up and be playing it inside of 10 minutes”. 5 is “you’ll need to set aside several hours to read this game, and allow time at the start to explain the rules to the other players”.

Strategic/tactical depth, from 1 to 5. 1 is snakes and ladders. 5 is Go (simple but deep) or Game of Thrones (complex and deep).

Roleplaying advice (roleplaying games only), from 1 to 5. 1 is “tells you what a roleplaying game is and leaves you to work the rest out for yourself”. 5 is “devotes a chapter or three to advice on how to run and/or play the game”. (Could widen this to boardgames I guess – play/strategy advice?)

Production values, from 1 to 5. 1 is cheapass games. 5 is Fantasy Flight Games.

Cost. In £s or $s or whatever we can get.

I feel like there’s something missing here… maybe something about how well-designed the rules are for the game it’s trying to be. “Design”, perhaps. 1 to 5, where 1 is “the experience of playing this game is radically different from how it’s sold on the tin” to 5 “rules and guidance come together to produce a game which hits the desired play experience on the head”.

So anyway. Thoughts? What would you want out of a game review? Would the above help you to identify a game you wanted to play? Do you even want ratings, or would you just prefer a good writeup?