Sunday, 13 August 2017

Where the Art Is #RPGaDay2017

12. Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

There are lots of excellent RPGs out there with top-notch production values. I've been reading Monte Cook's NUMENARA recently, and the art in that game is very high quality for a not-WotC-or-Paizo production. Especially when that game sets out to describe a science-fantasy world that's pretty different from your standard D&D-style world. The vistas are different, the characters are different, and the creatures... well, they're way different. ECLIPSE PHASE is another game that has out-of-this-world artwork and production values. I feel like that's almost expected for "bigger" games these days, even when they're not from a big publisher. Evil Hat has always set the bar very high for their books.

The game I want to give some love isn't one of the big ones, though there are a lot of worthy candidates. It's a smaller game (in terms of publisher size, not content -- this bad boy is almost 700 pages in the core book! staggering!) but the quality and consistency of the artwork is nothing short of inspiring. I'm talking about ZWEIHANDER - GRIM AND PERILOUS by Daniel Fox. This game was intended to be a retro-clone of early editions of WARHAMMER FANTASY ROLEPLAY, but it grew into something that is distinct despite its clear lineage. The artwork thus follows in that established tradition of artwork, detailing a dirty, Renaissance-era Europe full of scuzzy looking individuals and freaky looking mutants and demons and monsters, oh my.

Like I said -- this is a massive tome -- and I wouldn't have been surprised or upset if it had either a shortage of artwork or perhaps a number of pieces of art repeated several times. That isn't the case here, though. There are a very large number of high-quality black-and-white illustrations throughout, which set the tone for the game in a very real way. Kudos to Dejan Mandic and Jussi Alarauhio for the tons of beautiful artwork to be found here, some of which I've shown.

13. Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

Hmm, although I tend not to write in these pages all that frequently (notwithstanding August's RPGaDay hijinks), this is the sort of thing that I often talk about in these parts, so it's hard to come up with a specific example that I've not already talked about.

Why don't I mention how I've been running the haunted house game we've been playing this summer, NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE, since that's my current jam and I have indeed been paying careful attention to how I run it as a GM.

The first session of NOGOA I mostly sat back and let the players do their thing. I gave them a short introductory scene where we saw the player characters approaching the island together, and I interjected a few moments of setting detail / exposition, but mostly I spent the session letting the player characters begin to flesh out their conflicts and how they were going to play them out. I set myself a task that I was paying attention to -- in addition to watching the (entertaining) drama, I was keeping track of a set of "manifest clocks" for each character, in the style of APOCALYPSE WORLD harm clocks. I had a set of conditions listed (one of which I told the players about, the rest I kept secret -- by their request) which would fill up a section on the clocks. It was easy for players exhibiting classic "early in a drama" behaviour -- not agreeing to petitions, lying to each other -- to fill several sections of the clocks in a single scene. I let them know that when their clocks were full, the haunted house would begin manifesting phenomena aimed at them, and even let them choose which one (I had a set of cards with evocative but not exactly descriptive names). That created a nice out-of-character sense of ominous threat to the first session, which worked well because, like in a traditional haunted house story, although the weird phenomena didn't start right away the audience (in this case, the players) knew it was coming.

The second session, all three characters had hit their triggers by the end of the first scene, so I could play a much more active role in confronting them with eerie (if mostly minor) events that mostly served to escalate their conflicts. I also played the supporting cast of characters more aggressively, to give the main characters extra pressure.

Although I very deliberately set out to run the game this way, I think this general approach would work for a lot of character-and-drama-centric games. Listen and pay careful attention early on, while the players "kick the tires" on their characters, then use the ammunition you accumulate in that first session to really take things up a notch.

We'll see if I can continue to escalate things in interesting ways in the next session. I expect this will be a short-run game, which is fine (especially if people are playing hard and we get all the good stuff early). I'm still considering whether I want to use more clocks to play out a "third act" mechanic in the game where we model the doom that hovers over the characters the same way I made the presence of the supernatural in the game a "timed release".

After all, I wouldn't be living up to that title if the player characters emerged unscathed...

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