Fall of Magic, by Ross Cowman, is one of my favorite games because its simplicity in rules combined with voluminous, evocative potential make it a fantastic introductory story game.
So, what is it? Fall of Magic is a map-based story prompt game centered around the player characters escorting this NPC character called, The Magus, to a far away land where Magic was born. It is a fantasy world and magic is supposedly leaving the world and the magus with it. It is deliberately vague fantasy designed for you to imprint it with the baggage of your own favorite famous fantasy novel worlds as you desire.
I played Fall of Magic last night with two folks who never played it before. (I myself have played it 2 other times.) One player is a new regular like me to Story Games Seattle, but the other is a new face having only played Fiasco before!
Every game of Fall of Magic begins a similar way. We take turns selecting a name and role from the map as our characters. What the implications are of choosing such a name and role, well, that's left for us players to decide through play.
Harp, Fox of the Mistwood, played by A
Justice, Golem of Ravenhall, played by B
Kabu, Raven of Ravenhall, played by Me
In the first hour, we learned a lot of backstory. Kabu was a criminal from a far away land. He's cunning, ambitious, and arrogant. His crime leaves him indentured to the Magus.
Harp is a literal Fox. She chafes under her form and seeks a way to return to being human.
The Golem is named Justice and a grizzled war hero. His limbs have been replaced with animated stone, now faulting as magic of the realm wanes.
While this may have been fun, I could tell my two friends were a little confused and maybe even disappointed? I decided during our first break to talk about it. I asked them if they're having fun and if we should keep playing. They both chimed in truthfully saying they're having fun but it wasn't expected. They thought there would be more roleplaying between characters instead of just so many soliloquies and dictated scenes.
I realized this issue stemmed from my first scene! My first scene was establishing the Raven as a scribe and demanding to join the Magus on his journey! The fact it was a solo scene, I think made my players think the game is different from what it can be,
During the break we read the advice/tips part of the rules aloud as well as me giving my speech about the best advice is listening to other players and being obvious and using clichés/tropes.
The second hour of play was way different than the first hour. We really were having fun and had some very awesome scenes. We left the "past" and buildup and really started playing with each other and encountering problems! Our Grey Rangers were lepers led by an Bronze-Mask wearing old friend of the Magus. He was upset with the travelers who should have known better than to come to the Mistwood after the summer solstice! The game just kept getting better and better from there!
In conclusion, the Golem a soldier, augmented with magic stone after injuries in the Battle of Swine Hill long ago journeyed with the Magus to the end, for with the end of magic would also mean his death. Kabu, an arrogant rogue impressed into service of the Magus bit off more than he could chew in Isstalia and became a literal Raven! He too joined the Magus and Golem entering the glow. Coincidentally, Harp, following in the aftermath of Kabu's transformation was turned back from a literal fox into her human form! Her ending seemed more positive.
Fall of Magic can be purchased here: http://www.heartofthedeernicorn.com/store/
A while back, I featured Fall of Magic on my indie RPG show, Once Upon A Game. If you'd like to see this game in action, watch the video below!
There's no one game for everyone.
This last Thursday, I played a game of Microscope: Echo.
The premise behind this game of Echo was stellar: The Nimble Fox and the Son 2K13 was the best video game never released.
Due to business politicking, the Japanese Great Firewall Game Company sunk the to-be magnum opus of their best designer, Katsu Fujitsu, leaving him and his family destitute and exiled to America.
However, as Katsu lay dying on his deathbed, he told his progenitors of a secret. A secret he kept with him this whole time, that there's a code in the games he made that would let them go back in time! Using these codes, they can go back, restore the family legacy, and make sure that The Nimble Fox and the Son 2k13 got the claim it deserved! If it were only that simple, however. Because Kim Jon Non and the DPRNK also wanted that game, but all to themselves and for the glory of their leader!
The game played well. We were all contributing and adding gorgeous ideas and twists on established ideas, We learn that Katsu sacrificed a lot to make The Nimble Fox and the Son 2k13. We witnessed sabotage by DPRNK spies sent to take the game while it's being developed, we witnessed his family being exiled as a matter of honor. It was a really cool game with a lot of cool ideas going.
And then we had our first break.
As facilitator of the game, I use breaks to gauge the game and the group and more than half the group (both new to Story Games and Microscope) said this isn't the game for them. It felt like being punched in the gut. I don't want to say or admit I didn't take it personally, but of course on many layers I took it personally. Instead of acting out defensively, I wanted to know more. It turns out that both players disliked the amount of prep involved in the game of microscope and microscope echo in particular. Both players also encouragingly mentioned that if it weren't for my facilitating they'd probably would have bailed or at least have had a FAR WORSE experience.
This was a watershed moment for me as a facilitator, because here we are, playing a version of my FAVORITE RPG EVER and I'm told that two of the players don't like it. Also it turned out one had to leave early anyways, so we finished the game with one more focus.
After the game we spoke at length about what we liked/didn't like about the game and what happened and how we could improve. The biggest complaint by far was the amount of prep time involved. I cautioned the group that Microscope falls probably on the medium part of story games with prep and that they should ask facilitators (now that they have a metric!) about the amount of prep in their next game! (I did tell them to come back and try a different game!) I also recommended Fall of Magic because Fall of Magic is an amazing, prepless game that seemed their speed.
Both players had IMMENSE talent and creative minds. The few scenes we did do were awesome (Kim Jon Non visiting Katsu on his deathbed was particularly great!)
I do hope they return to Story Games Seattle.