Monday, 22 December 2014

HTHD Year in Review (Part Two)

I realized, a few hours after posting the first part of my year-end wrap up that I made a very important omission from my list! So I'll start with that, before jumping into the Great Moments At Our Table 2014:

Great Fate Game of 2014 -- No, Wait -- GREATEST THING EVER: ATOMIC ROBO

I honestly don't know how I missed it. I pretty much love everything Fate, but Atomic Robo really hit the sweet spot for me. It's not only a great new Fate variant that serves its source material (which I also unabashedly love) well, it's got a lot of cracking good, useful material for those of us who've been lurking around the Evil Hatverse for a while. It's the best looking book Evil Hat has done so far, and that's really saying something after the Dresden Files books and the crisp, clean look of the Fate Core material. It does a better job of explaining Fate than anything else I've ever seen, using bits of AR comic as though they were a game in progress. It would also be at the top of my list as a replacement for my beloved (but dated) SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY -- this version of Fate is just about perfect for pulpy adventure. Honourable mention to JADEPUNK, which was maybe the biggest surprise of the year in the Fate world -- a tasty new FAE variant that perfectly models the kind of world you played through in Bioware's classic CRPG Jade Empire.

'Second Verse, Definitely Not The Same As The First' Campaign of the Year: 'ROUND MIDNIGHT

The follow up to Megan's game where Jazz era Chicago collided with the world of the faeries wrapped up after a nine-ish episode run. I'm not sure she was 100% happy with it, but for those of us on the playing side it was a satisfying affair. I got to take my magic trumpet man Silk in an entirely new direction, with a real substantial change as the game went on, and played some very exciting scenes against Amanda's changeling character Joy.

Dave Palpatine Award for Outstanding Achievement in Villainy: BILLY SATURDAY

Oily Southern charm that can pivot into vile racism at the drop of a hat. That's the villain of SOUTHERN ROCK OPERA in a nutshell, a nice little old man who just wants to help people realize their dreams. And imprison their souls. And isn't adverse to maybe arranging a few deaths to hurt those who don't follow his orders.

You Can't Always Get What You Want Award: LOST PINES

I still haven't written a full-length treatment of the game yet, but we playtested my long-gestating homage to Twin Peaks this year. Mostly the feedback was good, which didn't surprise me because it was aimed squarely at our group play style. Interestingly, there were always at least a couple of players who didn't like the idea that it's designed to be played up to a cliffhanger which is unresolved. People were quite cranky on that point. But I'm okay with making a few people unhappy with an aesthetic choice -- if you're not making anyone upset with you, you're probably not doing anything new. We'll see if I can make them angry with the new game I'm noodling away on, but I'll tell you more about that in the new year. Until then, I'll leave you with this: it's a Motown cyberpunk game. How's that for a cliffhanger?

How You Like The Taste of that Irony Award: VANGUARD

The only thing I told my online group I didn't want for my online "superhero" game Vanguard was urban fantasy. What did I get? A game full of monsters and ghosts and wizards. Ah well, shows you what the GM knows. We did have fun with it.

Fan-Favourite NPC of the Year: DORIS FROM ONTARIO

There have been a lot of NPCs populating the world of my pulp epic SEVEN STARS OF ATLANTIS, but none have inspired quite so much delight as Doris, a woman travelling from Hong Kong with her father that the PCs encountered while fleeing the sinister Dr. Song. She assured our blue-haired reporter Teddy that he was "very famous in Ontario", and insisted on showing him all of her clippings. This escalated to Su Li attempting to poison the wholesome small town girl, only to accidentally give the entire ship a painful case of diarrhea.

Oh, what the heck -- one more product:

Gaming Thing Most Likely To Suck My Wallet Dry: FATE DICE

Seriously, Evil Hat -- give a brother a break. These things are like beautiful gaming crack. And, like Pokemon, you gotta have 'em all. 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

HTHD Year in Review (Part One)

Has it been twelve months already? Hard to believe, what with the sporadic posts and all, but here we are again at the end of the year reflecting on the gaming that's happened in between.

Most Game-Able Movie of 2014 - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Here was a movie that practically everyone with any sense at all loved, because it did one thing better than just about any genre movie in recent memory: it was flat-out FUN. This is something that HTHD gamers need to be reminded of, from time to time -- although we like our Serious Fun that involves tough emotional decisions and pain, sometimes it's just what the doctor ordered to embrace the fun. I've been running a Fate Accelerated game using this as inspiration, and it's been just as delightfully goofy as I hoped.

Shiny New Game We're Digging The Heck Out Of - DUNGEON WORLD

Speaking of fun, here's an Apocalypse World variant that packs pretty much everything I remember loving about classic D&D into the most efficient package possible. Like most *World games, where it really comes to life is in the unexpected turns the narrative takes based on the dice. I've been running this lately for my online game, and I recently came to the virtual "table" with about ten minutes of material, figuring my players would lead the way for the rest. And so they did, leading to an entirely satisfying (and tense!) gaming experience based entirely on *World's "something always happens" rolling mechanic.

Oddest Gaming Confection of the Year: GOLDEN SKY STORIES

As a palate cleanser after a number of fairly heavy games, this was just the thing -- a Japanese game that's about shape-changing animals helping people. No conflict, no fighting. Just friendship and kindness and a pastoral rural setting. We were less enthusiastic about the system (I would probably use a variation of either Token Effort, from Greg Stolze's great IN SPAAAACE! comedy space opera, or else the venerable but delightful TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE), but the overall gaming experience was good. A lovely reminder that games can also be satisfying when they are about the "softer" kinds of stories and emotions. More games could explore this territory. And should.

The D.B. Cooper Memorial 'One That Got Away' Award: APOCALYPSE WORLD

I was all set to run this as a follow up to GSS, but unfortunately that particular gaming group imploded before the first session. One day...! Honourable mention also to TRIBE 8, a game I've got a lot of love for, but one that I ultimately decided wouldn't be a good fit for the Saturday crew.

Not-Exactly-New Game I Dug The Hell Out Of: BLOWBACK

I'm a big fan of Burn Notice, the great rollicking spy-in-exile TV show that inspired Elizabeth Sampat to design this terrific espionage game. It captures the feel of the show better than almost any other genre adaptation I can think of, albeit with the numbers largely filed off here. She comes up with an elegant way to introduce the extended family characters that make Burn Notice so great (each player takes on a "main cast" character and a dependant character) and builds in elegant ways to place the supporting cast in peril and manage exciting spy derring-do. Great stuff.

Surprise! It's Awesome! Award: BASE RAIDERS

I've just recently been getting back into listening to a lot of podcasts, including RPPR (Role Playing Public Radio) and its sister podcast that focuses on Actual Play. That introduced me to Base Raiders, RPPR mainstay Ross Payton's game of superhero "dungeon delving". That high concept didn't really sell me initially, but when I learned the details -- this is set in a world where all the high-end superheroes and villains have vanished in some kind of cosmic Event (which would likely have 'Crisis' in the title, were it on the shelf at your local comic book store), leaving their secret bases full of weird Silver Age technology and magic secrets up for grabs. The more I thought about this, the more I loved it, and now it's something I'm thinking of pitching one of my groups in the new year. I'm picturing a game that's about low-rent crooks trying to make it big -- Tarantino-esque shenanigans in a world dripping with the trappings of comic books. Sounds like a winner to me.

Online Gaming Innovation of the Year: ROLL20 ADDS CHARACTER SHEETS

The Roll20 VTT continues to be a great way to play games online, and the addition of pre-generated character sheets -- which often look a lot like their tabletop counterparts, with dice rolling functionality added -- makes setting up a new game a whole lot easier. These guys continue to hit it out of the park with great new features.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Quick and Dirty: FateSystem

One of the coolest things Robin Laws did with his excellent, now award-winning, design for DramaSystem was to make the parts modular: if you don't like the "procedural" rules that he includes for doing things that aren't engaging in high-stakes drama -- and, with respect to Robin, I don't -- you don't need to use them. The rules for dramatic resolution work perfectly well as an overlay on your favourite set of RPG rules, and that's a big feature for me. If the purpose is to encourage people to try out playing in a style that includes more drama, why not allow them to do that with their favourite game system? How about a little drama with your Pathfinder, or Traveller...

...or Fate?

Anyone who's read this blog before or listened to the podcast I do with my friends knows that Fate is a favourite in these parts. It hits the sweet spot in terms of tight, flexible rules that aim for narrative collaboration and heroic action. Fate fits a lot of the games we play just like a glove. 

In Fate as written, you use the same set of rules to model conflicts whether they are physical or social. Indeed, using the Fate "fractal" (or, if you prefer, the "Bronze rule") you can model any number of interactions in a game using the same basic rules. That's a lot of power. 

I've used Fate to run full-on social combat before, playing out pivotal interactions in a way that was, I must admit, pretty satisfying. When we talk about social combat, we're usually talking about a conflict playing out between a player character and an NPC, and you could still do that if you want in a scene where you're playing out a high-stakes argument to change a character's mind. Well and good. The most important purpose of using the DramaSystem rules for dramatic conflicts alongside Fate would be to model interactions between two player characters, however. As I've said before, something we've found after years of HTHD play is that dramatic scenes tend to happen most often between two PCs. These are the foundational conflicts and deep interactions that form the basis for our play style, and the fact that players are at the center of that has everything to do with why it is so rewarding. Like the main cast of a television show, the player characters are the ones whose stories and relationships are the most important. That's as it should be.

The dramatic resolution rules in DramaSystem are so light as to be almost non-existent, and I feel like they'd do well in terms of running a game where you often want the rules to fade into the background. That's pretty much how it goes in an HTHD game. Most of the time, you want to concentrate on the people and their problems. When you need a little crunch, you can go to the full Fate system and roll some dice. And, unlike some story gamers, I still likes my dice. 

If you were to do this, I'm picturing a Fate Accelerated variant that models jobs (much the way that Jadepunk does) so that it's clear those rules are there to handle procedural stuff specifically, not social interactions. Running something closer to Fate Core would require stripping out some of the social skills. I'm not sure off the top of my head what other implications that might have. 

The only part of this that demands a little thought, or perhaps some experimentation, is whether the tokens you receive for agreeing to a petition in DramaSystem could be interchangeable with Fate points on the crunchier end of things. I suppose it comes down to how much you use the two systems. If they're well-balanced, with equal parts drama and action playing out, then you probably don't need to worry about drama tokens throwing the Fate point economy out of whack. Accepting a petition might effectively become a kind of "compel", for which you get rewarded with a point as usual. It might be easier to keep them as discrete units which do their own things, on the whole, but as my friend Rob has observed, there is a lobe of the human brain that likes things tidy, dammit, and do we really need to have two different point economies side by side instead of one?

Has anybody tried this?