Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Little Engine That Could (?)

A few months ago, I wrote a couple of posts about the Apocalypse Engine / *World games, which I was devoting a great deal of thought to. Since then, I've tried to get a full-on game of APOCALYPSE WORLD going -- that group sputtered and flew apart like a Sopwith Camel augering into the French countryside after the Red Baron popped by -- and also started running DUNGEON WORLD for my online group. It's fair to say that this gaming system, or perhaps its semi-formalized style of play, continues to occupy my imagination.
The online game has really just started, but so far we've had a lot of fun with it. Although my original opinion of DW and many of the other games that have spun off from Vincent Baker's original game has not changed -- that they're not about something in the same way that AW and the excellent MONSTERHEARTS are about their subjects, merely applying a new ruleset to traditional procedural concerns -- I have to concede that DW works, and works well. Perhaps it is enough that it helps a group re-frame the experience of playing a vanilla fantasy game in the Old School style that us grognards rhapsodize. Certainly, I enjoyed the fact that it made me run a session a certain way, and encouraged me to adopt best practices behaviours in running even modest encounters. I'd say my players are sold on it.

I was taking a leisurely stroll through the playbooks for MONSTER OF THE WEEK last night. The game is a *World variant dedicated to monster hunting in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Supernatural mold, and looks pretty spiffy. It's already available, though I may wait a bit for the super-deluxe treatment it's going to get through Evil Hat Productions in print (and those guys know how to make great-looking books, I tellya what). There are a lot of great builds using this rules engine, big and small, published and fan-made. It speaks to the power of this style of play that so many people have embraced it and found ways to use it for Their Favourite Game.

Although I've so far resisted jumping on the Kickstarter bandwagon (and let's face it, it's because I have no cash), I was delighted to see a new *World game being pitched recently called Spirit of '77. This game could have emerged directly from my id, as it bears a more-than-passing resemblance to a campaign I ran a couple of years back called THE STRANGENAUTS. Basically, it's a high-action game that embraces a lot of the cultural tropes and imagery of the late 1970s. Although it looks like the basics of the Apocalypse Engine are the same here, the game constructs characters in a more do-it-yourself fashion that's pretty interesting, instead of the usual playbook ready to run.
There's a pretty cool demo adventure here that has pretty much everything you need to play, including a pre-made character who bears a strong resemblance to Colonel Sanders. Also it has the Love Boat and zombies. Carry on.

Like I said, despite some re-skinning with awesome 70's style (the ranged attack move is called Smoke His Ass), most of the basics are the same in this game, but at the beginning of the demo the creators throw down what I think is a very interesting idea: that since the roll 2d6, 10+ is full success, 7-9 is partial success, and 6 or less is bad mojo rule structure of *World is the basic skeleton of the whole system, for those who want to play it super-loose, you could play a game using only that basic rule with nothing else.

Outta sight!

Of course, this is assuming (I think) that you're going to be adjudicating the game using something very like the principles and GM Moves that also exist in all of these games, or it would be a very slippery slope toward the same old problem of GM Fiat that *World is designed to avoid.

The idea is an attractive one, though. As a go-to system that requires very little prep, it could fit a lot of game groups well for nights when the regularly scheduled nerdfest doesn't come off for some reason. Just grab 2d6 and go. Players could just write down a few notes about their character -- possibly assigning bonuses and penalties to broad traits (which might end up looking like Fate style Aspects or PDQ Qualities) and be ready to play. Best of all, the very structure of the system means that a pick-up game would be driven by the players from the gitgo.

Has anybody out there tried this?


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