After playing The King is Dead again last night, I have some words to say about this game!
The biggest oversight of my previous playthrough was the mutliple Muster & Intrigue scenes at the start.
"On your turn, choose one of the games. Turn to that page in the playbook and follow the rules there. On the very first turn of the game, choose Intrigue and Muster. Turn to page 18 and follow the rules for that game."
So the first time we read that, we all thought like Firebrands that we ALL do an intrigue round as our first turn. WRONG. Tonight's game would not repeat that mistake.
The stage was set with another five player game. Interestingly, we all ended up with a more greco/cretian/swords-and-sandals inspired game.
Hector of House Dillstone
Arxemus of House Luneste
Akileus of House Sandoreal
Asterion of House Oake
Huon of House Antyre
Our intrigue scene set the stage for "Season 1" of our The King is Dead:
House Sandoreal was getting mercenaries across the sea, among the mercenaries were agents of House Luneste.
I was playing Asterion, an handsome astronomer/warrior (as you do), who saw Luneste crates on the shores via a wandering telescoping eye one night during his stay as tutor to family members of House Dillestone. We agreed to cement our pacts together and be on the lookout against House Sandoreal.
Sexy fighting times were had between Sandoreal and Luneste but the whole game took a turn when, during a meal celebrating the marriage of the infant king-to-be of house dillestone to a member of house oake, it was revealed to our House Antyre guests they were fed the meat of butchered raiders of their own house! DUN DUN DUN!
Yeah it was shocking. And awesome. And horrible. And awesome.
House Antyre flew into a rage there at the dinner, while everyone else here was kind of horrified at the violation of guest rite by House Dillestone. (Was it Hector acting alone? What does this mean!?).
By the end of the game, Hector kind of Macbeth'd his house as they all kind of died in an infighting thing while the combined armies of the other houses marched on Dillestone's lands.
The final parts of the scene were arguing between Luneste and Oake about what would happen next. Justice must be delivered!
House Oake, loyal and honorable, petitioned the armies of Luneste to disband with us. There'll be no more bloodshed today. It's time to put aside our differences and heal as a country. It went over fairly well. It helped that House Oake promised Luneste Dillestone lands if they back Oake's claim to the throne!
Season 2 would explore that Luneste and Sandoreal aren't very happy with the mediocre leadership of House Oake. The drama being fueled by House Antyre's refusal to bend the knee demanding independence.
Unfortunately I did gloss over a lot of the bad that we wound up in. The scenes between House Dillestone and House Antyre were troubling. We had players confused about the stakes of a tactical skirmish, and what the loser must do if they lost.
House Antyre won the skirmish in the dinner hall after the reveal they were eating their kinsmen. House Dillestone got caught up wondering how this makes sense in a Dillestone castle, so there was a lot of walking through and "ok so this doesn't mean the WAR is won by Antyre it just means this particular scene they got what they wanted... sort of... because also House Antyre proposed a Withdrawl instead of just submit so their demand of taking Hector prisoner didn't work out."
It was a gordian knot of fictional positioning we had to slice through by letting both sides kind of speak what's going on, why they're not trusting the rules, etc.
I'm excited to play The King is Dead again tonight on my channel!
So you might know already that I'm a huge fan of MF0: Firebrands. The King is Dead was pitched to me as our darling Firebrands set in a Game of Thrones like political fantasy setting. Hell yes!
I brought and facilitated it for the first time over at Story Games Seattle with a group of Firebrand lovers as well as 2 new comers. Our game of five was set.
We went over the rules for character creation and that was all well and good, but I should note that we did not use the prescribed paperclips for muster. Don't worry though. That's about the extent of rules deviation we consciously attributed to the game.
We each drew our house name and a symbol as our paperclip on the muster board.
Speaking of which, I should probably go over muster. The muster mechanic of The King is Dead is probably the biggest mechanical difference between itself and Firebrands. Muster embodies the strength of your house. It symbolizes the number of armies you can yield as well as determine whose house ultimately becomes crowned. Each house begins with a different quanta of muster.
When it came to do our first "solo" scene, we each followed the rules. Instead of having scenes affecting your own character, you create a scene or just describe an event occurring for a different house. Now with five people, reading 4 sets of 10 options is kind of a lot to parse initially, but we got there and had some cool premises for groundwork of our game going.
We proceeded to play the game getting about 15 scenes total through the game (3 per person). It certainly had its high moments: one house was looking for aid from the most powerful one for their upcoming war. We decided they had to prove their convictions by wrestling and we had the negotiations take place over a wrestling duel. It was really cool!
By the end of it though, no one topped the house in the lead the whole game and we all were feeling like the game wasn't doing what it did with Firebrands. (Not like it mattered the strongest house remained strong, that's not the object of the game).
Anyways we spent some time discussing the game after.
The new players brought up how the game would be more fun the second time around, now that they grok the scene selection/flow of the game, which is definitely how I felt about Firebrands the first time.
But something we all agreed on was that muster was lackluster. The change demonstrated most notably with the way the solitaire game works: Muster and Intrigue. The fact you no longer declare what your faction is doing, but what other factions are doing, is an interesting choice and a big deviation from Firebrands' solitaire scene selections.
Our big takeaways were that The King Is Dead puts players between their House's actions (but not being in charge of their house's actions) and their player actions in a way that isn't satisfying. Even moreso than firebrands, it felt like we were struggling to fictionally get our characters into those scenes instead of scenes with other NPCs of that particular house and whatnot.
We also all wondered if this was because Story Games Seattle is a biased sample of players where we're pretty comfortable driving characters like stolen cars and lighting their dreams on fire ourselves, that the game was pushing us towards making declarations about how other people's houses were on fire rather than our own that made it unsure of where we were going.
Instead of the solitaire scene invoking a sense of fictional authority/advocating a particular direction the game is heading and then pitching it to the table, you as a player just react to whatever unstable event comes down the pipeline. Instead of actively pushing the game forward, you're re-actively pushing the game forward.
We will DEFINITELY be playing the game again, but we're looking at making some changes to the way the game is played.
A notable change (even one we've added to Firebrands) is that in scenes like a Conversation Over Dinner, the player suggesting the scene also has more control over the circumstances. The partner obviously consents/provides additional context, but often times the player who wants to do a conversation over dinner has a scene idea in mind. Instead of their partner having to be put on the spot and the player who chose that scene be disappointed, we just skipped that.
Another change we're eager to try is that we're going to explore emphasizing the House rather than particular characters of said House.
Our game setup will follow a procedure about selecting three attributes that describe the tendencies of your House, rather than the main character we're playing. A list of suggested names, ranks, or positions unique to each family is also something we're considering doing. Think, like, the skirmish suggestions but some roles unique to each house. Additionally, a House Motto and symbol for the muster tracker is also returning in this game.
It'll be the player's choice if any given house character embodies or subverts their house's traits. The idea we want to convey is that each house can conjure up notable family members and we can drive them like stolen cars in scenes.
Additionally, we're interested in returning the intrigue and muster to the way firebrands works, where each player only chooses from the list under their own particular house and going from there.
Anyways thanks for reading my post! If you've played The King is Dead, let me know how it went. I really really love the format of this game, and while it did not tonally resonate or play as well as Firebrands, it's got a lot of greatness going for it.
The re-imagining of The Quiet Year by Avery Alder and Mark Diaz Truman.
We introduced a few more monsters as the game progressed, a spirit elk, and some ancient spirits, but ultimately we never felt like a community, We felt disjointed.
The game doesn't allow for discussions like TQY does. It felt like there were just multiple stories going on that didn't feel connected. We had nothing to do but explore, which is different than The Quiet Year, where fixing your scarcities is always a good fallback strategy for what to do on your turn.
I would gladly play this game again, but given the choice between it and The Quiet Year, I think I'd rather play the later. The Deep Forest seems to have taken away some of the mechanics of The Quiet Year that make it feel so good to play. I think the aim was to allow for players to interact more as monsters in the game, but it didn't click for me.
If you've played The Deep Forest or even The Quiet Year, I'd like to hear your thoughts on your experiences!
Players: Tony, CJ, Zane, Eric
System: Blades Against Darkness
Blades Against Darkness is an upcoming Swords and Sorcery/Western hack for Blades in the Dark. The game takes place in a frontier setting composed of guns and strange magic. We have civil war technology and monsters and magic are strange, absurd, and alien. Our city of Ironwood was formed as a hub of economic activity (lumber if you could guess by the name) and sits on top of a ruined volcano and home to the ruins of once powerful sorcerer kings. This was session #2 but will be my first write up.
Before we jump into the report, here's a quick Dramatis Personae:
Tony, Pangit, the goat horned godson Chosen to debauchery.
CJ - Staven, an Ushdvani PTSD war veteran Widowmaker
Zane - Thron, the manipulative Edroshani Copperhead
Eric - Gwala, the forsaken Ushdvani Warden
Phil - Jikali, the ostracized and enigmatic Trau Chimera
Last session, our band of tomb robbers blew up a demonic power plant in the Ashlands, and so we started this session off doing downtime! After a brief discussion if our antics constituted 4 aggro or 3 aggro, we settled on 3 aggro (aggro being this hack's mechanical replacement for heat) as well as 5 coin for looting these obsidian tablets to sell to the Trau-- the "simple merchants" who lived on this continent for millennia.
Our actions in downtime really played on what we did last session. Our contact for our first mission put pressure on our poor, indebted Thron, that the location we blew up was supposed to be given to the Grey Foxes company. She needs a new spot to be found, FAST to make good on her promises to them and its up to poor, hungover Thron to solve it. Gwala was injured after some bad rolls and encounters with some steam vents. I spent the downtime healing my burns and ended up pissing off the earth spirits who were assisting me. They need me to restore the earth by dumping some alien god relic into the sea of magma its perched over. Apparently it gives the earth spirits bad vibes. ,
Staven and Panjit end up trying to recruit for the church of Pan.. Panjit's religion, Staven thinks a Bacchanalia would do the mind and body right and delightfully helps Panjit plan this.
Phil couldn't make it tonight, so we roleplayed his Chimera (wizard) off talking to the skull of the sorcerer king he found last session.
The rest of our downtime actions were in response to Thron's escapades. We all decided that figuring out a new adventure spot (and one that Thron's friend could give to the powerful faction, the Grey Foxes) could be done together and so we reconed the ashlands and think we found a good spot to adventure in.
We didn't get too far into our mission before having to call it for the night. Downtime ended up taking quite a lot of time! However we were able to find a secret way into this engineer compound where one of the buildings was COVERED in ice in the middle of a basin in a volcano!
We learned last week that a lot of ice like that usually means golem activity. Golems are mechanical constructs (wands, tools, machines, etc) imbued with a spark of the creators soul which, when pushed to the limits, absorbs heat from the world around it making things very cold.
It was also extremely dark where we were going, so as a Warden, I invoked powers of animals, and called upon the ability of an Owl to see in the dark, until someone suggested I use the power of an Anglerfish! And so it was. Anglerfish Gwala is now the lightsource for the party!
We get close to the building when we find the remains of previous adventurers. Apparently some sort of ghost like being did a number on this party… and it was at that moment we saw a spectral fin breach the floor and dive back below. Some ghostly animals from the nearby fossils must have been attracted to either this place or our magic!
We proceed with caution until we get to the room with this MASSIVE silver tomb. That’s where we stopped!
While this particular session wasn’t as strong as my first taste, I’m still excited to come back for week 3!
Blades Against Darkness is so good! This game is much a work in progress, but it has a lot of potential. Its flavor stems from a gritty fantasy/western crossed with dungeons that are more in line with HR Geiger and the Metroid video games.
The playbooks themselves are very interesting! Each one is a riff on your classic D&D class archtype- Chosen are your cleric, warlock, and paladins, Widowmakers are your fighters, Rogues are your Copperheads, Chimeras are your wizards, and Wardens are your Druid/Ranger/Barbarians. Each one’s moves make you go, “OH MAN I WANNA PLAY THAT” which is quite an impressive feat!
When you go on an adventure, the GM starts a sort of “grind” mechanic like you would in Torchbearer. Every 4 moves the GM makes a move! The alien-ness of our dungeons is also a very nice touch. Last week, I made the observation that dungeon delving in Blades Against Darkness is like your whole team is hacking into a secure facility. Now not every dungeon is like this, but for the first the dungeon we did—the Ashlands Powerplant—it occurred to me that this dungeon is similar to hacking in cyberpunk! The party links up and enters this dungeon which is itself a sort of monumentally massive supercomputer. The dungeon sort of registers the hack, and begins to find and trace its invaders and send response things at the invaders. Treating the dungeon crawling aspects like your racing against the tracing clock was awesome! Its an analog I really wanna see more of as we play. Hopefully it doesn’t get stale.
As with most RPGs I play, my dice cursed me with horrible rolls this and previous session and more level 2 harm is just around the bend for me… but the thing with blades and blades games, it captures the best parts of PBtA format games of having failure fall forward and progress the story in interesting ways.
Jason Morningstar's newest game, The Skeletons is out now for digital release on DrivethruRPG.
I brought my copy to Story Games Seattle this week. Ideally this game should be played in a private place with friends -- a place where you can turn off the lights and be comfortable in the quiet, darkness. For the purposes of playing in a public space with strangers, we made do with closing our eyes at the table. Did we lose out on some of the introspection? Of course. The six of us, lovers of Jason and Bully Pulpit's games, soldiered on eager to try this new morsel.
In short, The Skeletons is a game about being undead tomb guardians. It's a very freeform story game that spans millennia and our skeletons only spur to action when intruders show up. It is in the flurry of activity of defending the tomb do we see flickers of who, what, and why.
Out of the 7 available character sheets, it was only the Outsider that did not see play. This means the Silver Torc, Rusted Shirt, Tattered Cloak, Headless, Arrow-Shield, and Horror guarded our tomb.
After character selection, the next step is to sketch a few items on your skeleton and draw on the shared map. Sketching in details on your character sheet skeleton before working on the map helped our group as more than one player incorporated elements of our skeletons into the tomb at large. The holy symbol of the Headless, wound up also being seen on a silvery piece of art in an alcove.
This is a picture of the map taken at the end of play. A lot of chaos and damage occurred to our home over the many thousands of years, but seen here is a MASSIVE dark sarcophagus in the middle of the tomb. Four glyphs mark the corners of the tomb which had something to do with the Horror, Additionally there's the previously mentioned alcove on the north wall, a fountain on the west wall with its basin full of skulls, seven recesses housing large statuettes of people in varying condition and a hidden gem behind one of the statuettes (behind the mother cradling the air) on the south wall, and on the eastern wall is a mural of some sort of exodus of people being led by a cloaked figure away from devastation.
With 6 people. it felt hard pressed to develop a whole lot in the midst of these combats. We took turns going around the table indicated what we're doing, trying to not kill the intruders too quickly, as to get to our questions!
I, for one, enjoyed a few running themes that were identified early on. There's something going on with the faith of the eye involving the Silver Torc and Headless. Our Rusted Shirt also had a penchant for collecting the skulls of slain foes into the fountain basin.
Play felt long and drawn out early on for a few reasons. I think as a table, we did not pick up the mantle of declarative action as well as the game required. We did a lot of "if it's alright I'm gonna do...." and looking to the controller of the intruders for permission. One of the player in our game was quick to bring this up before a minute long Time Passes and I'm very thankful they did such.
The most important part of this game is the skeletons. Why we're here. What we're doing. Not the intruders. Not losing sight of this, we had quite a few interesting developments over the course of the game.
I'm very glad I got a chance to play this game and thankful for Story Games Seattle's perpetually awesome members willing to play with me. The post-mortem of the game yielded a fantastic and fruitful discussion about our play.
Ultimately, the game was fun, but felt like it was misfiring in a few ways. What we identified as the core culprit of the game is the combat segments of the game were tearing us away from the introspective flashback discovery that we all wanted out of the game!
Per the rules, the first few combats are trivial. We describe how we dispatch them and move on. We win automatically. I think as a group, we spent a lot of time delving into why the intruders were here and narrating a lot of their action, but I think that's a trap. Someone introduces the threat and we should move on. What they're doing is unimportant.
We were able to invoke a few flashbacks based on the circumstances of the intruders. For instance, an orc family moving into our tomb reminded Headless of her time as a nun and helping orphans, which was cool. Additionally, another player remarked how they enjoyed describing the action of the combats! A few others didn't feel the same way.
At no point in the game did we really uncover why we were all undead. We uncovered a lot of fun and interesting story elements of our lives prior to being dead and who we're guarding, but nothing about the circumstances that led us to being tomb guardians.
If I were to play this again (and I sincerely hope I do!) here's a few things I will do differently.
I will be explicit about declarations and authority of the story and not devolve into "Mother may I". I will play with fewer players. If we played this game with 3 players keeping everything else constant, each of us would have double the amount of time to speak! I will spend less time with the intruders. Quickly describe them and then we all move back to thinking about our skeletons.
Maybe a lot of our concerns are from lack of experience from the more freeform RPGs? But ultimately, we all agreed that the core part of the game is solid. We're telling a story of past lives, actual Skeletons, and the wear of time,
It's been a while. You haven't seen your crew in AGES. Not since the Catastrophe. But something needs your attention: a problem only you and your former team can solve. Looks like it's time to set the record straight in One Last Job!
One Last Job, by Grant Howitt, is a collaborative story game about the action genre. The setting and period are interchangeable, but the mechanics of the game pivot around this genre and setup: we are all characters who have worked together in the past to do something and that something ended up BAAADDDDDD. Betrayals, Deaths, Scars, Scorn, etc. You know-- your classic action movie setup. And you know what? It kills.
Four of us got together Thursday night and play it at Story Games Seattle so this meant we kicked it into GMless Mode. It was super cool for Grant to offer this version of play. The big thing about GM/GMless games are that the requirements of a GM never actually leave a game. The responsibilities are usually necessary for anything to happen, but instead of one person doing it, it comes to all of us players share the mantle of GM and the responsibilities therein.
What's really cool and great about One Last Job is that character creation is done in play AND the players will describe one another's characters. After choosing a setting and a little background, the "boss" of our team begins to assemble the team. One by One. The "thing we're setting off to do" will have a "problem" and this "problem" can only be solved by the one man/woman with the skills to do it: Player 1. So Player 1 will then describe what they're doing when the boss shows up to recruit him or her. After they catch up and agree to do the mission, Player 1 recruits the next player doing exactly what the boss did last time.. and so forth.
Our group wanted Fantasy and we went with stopping a Demon Lord's rise to power. The big twist that we went with this evening was that we were doing Suicide Squad style. We were all major villains taking on a larger threat! We discovered that our group assembled to defeat the Demon Lord before, but it didn't all go to plan. A character betrayed the party during their last showdown.
I started off by playing the former betraying party member: Magherri the Succubus. Magherri controlled a palantir like device and contacted our first character, Carthak the barbarian in his shadowy castle made of thick stone. Carthak was warned by Magherri that Ogrim has returned and is gathering power and must meet at the stables outside a remote inn. The Demon Lord Ogrim's skeletal armies block the way and it's only by his strategic cunning can we dare assault his fortress! So, following after was gathering Vul'adan Ghul the Necromancer for her ability to handle the magical wards and traps, Sasha the occultist for only her insane god could grant her the vision to navigate the hallways of madness, and Tarion the thief for unlocking the relics of power which will disable Ogrim to be destroyed!
The game started off a little janky as I shook off the rust of playing this game and realizing I must explain both player AND GM parts to people. It's a dice pool game and we are trying to get X successful ticks to beat the obstacle of this scene. Success relies on getting other players to tell anecdotes about your character and their past to give them equipment, legendary tales of prowess, or scars from before.
Given the hard start of the game, things were running smoothly by the second GM and we're all understanding the flow of Grit, anecdotes, and throwing d10s around. Ogrim was finally killed.
So apparently you can "win" at Remember, Tomorrow.
Normally tales of grizzly corporate espionage, mergers, cybernetics, and walled garden software ecosystems for higher education have no place for the small timers. A place packed full of greed, cynicism, and existential indifference, you'd think there's no room for personal victories. It's a future that practically assures that the underdogs get kicked, beaten, and go hungry. Play ball with the corps or enjoy the gutter. But not this time.
Remember Tomorrow, by Gregor Hutton, is a cyberpunk game featuring easy rules, fast character and faction generation, as well as goal focused play.
The point of Remember Tomorrow, is to see characters try to accomplish goals. Each character has a defining fictional goal. Something to do with their motivation. Dr. Flinder, for example, was driven to cure a genetic syndrome! Should Dr. Flinder play the game and complete their story goal, they are written out of the story. The way you score goals is by checking off 3 boxes: Ready, Willing, and Able. (which are also your 3 stats!).
The game is about multiple single protagonists in the same world and seeing their lives get crisscrossed and screwed over by entities bigger and more powerful than themselves. The multiple point of view story-telling format of this game certainly makes the game feel more like you're telling a story straight out of a Gibson book.
Players take turns either introducing new characters into the story, cutting deals with factions(organized, established opposition like a gang, corp, or group) to raise stats to make it easier for them to achieve their goal, or adopting a faction (gang, group, or corporation) and having them go after another player looking to harm their stats.
Look-- if I lost you in those paragraphs, the key take away here is that you want to see your character's goals satisfied and the only way your character can grow and complete their goal is to have another player challenge them!
We played a modified version of the game that speeds up play which is valuable for a one shot setting like this one. For more information regarding these fixes see the bottom of this post!
Okay. So Ben Robbins facilitated this game for us 3 fellow players. We had two characters and two factions to start with. Out of the gate, we had Dr. Peter Flinder who wanted the vanity and glory that comes with solving THE major medical issue of the time. He was lacking the readiness to really solve this issue. Research would have to be done!
I made Alan Red, a middle management financial investor who was passed up on a promotion and offer to become Partner at the firm because my boss stole his algorithm's credit. Similarly to Dr. Flinder, Alan was needed to get more ready for his task.
The two firms made up were the German Kramer Korp (where Alan Red worked) which is basically your standard mega-wall street investment bank and Holistic Prosperity, Inc which was some quasi-lifestyle cult-of-personality wellness institute around Dr. Anderson Rollston's beliefs in the human body. I'm sure you can see which factions were set up to challenge who!
What's important to keep in mind is that this game is not static. We don't play these 4 characters the entire night. In fact, the enjoyment of Remember Tomorrow comes from the fact you can drop and add other characters into the mix. You should be following the fun.
I'm very glad we had Ben here to facilitate this game. Because it was through this advice we ended up with our self-proclaimed victor of Remember, Tomorrow.
Sam Doyle was a hitman who's twin brother died as an unwilling guinea pig to one of Holistic Prosperity Inc's research clinics. Sam was going to make the world pay by killing Dr. Anderson Rollston!
So, before we get to that, our game started off with good Dr. Flinder was struggling with his research. The comments on his debut findings were mixed... to put it generously.
Also not going so well was Alan's career. Alan stewed with rage at his Boss as he perforated a slice of prefab chocolate cake with a fork at the company's "Congratulations" meeting for his boss the whole duration.
A few events pass and Alan's career is on its last legs. He desperately is looking for a high risk high reward investment to prove his value. He finds it in Dr. Flinder's research. A cure for the cybernetic feedback disorder, the Otomo Syndrome, could spell billions of cash and crack the cybernetics market wide open.
In comes Sam Doyle, grimly determined to find information on his brother's killer in the clinic he passed away at. He gets what he wants, but he's noticed and fights his way out. The kerfuffle causes HDI to start shaking up who might be behind the break in. Dr. Flinder makes their list of suspects!
Eventually a new character and new faction enter the mix! Annalise just finished high school and tech savvy. She was passed up to go to Harvard due to a technicality in her criminal records as a 10 year old and because of this, wants to hack into the college's libraries and make them free for everyone! Opposing Annalise is the accredited Higher Education Information Bureau.
The game went by so quickly. While each scene was one on one, you couldn't help but listen as players went back and forth until a conflict arose which caused dice to roll... and boy did our dice roll! We had some crazy high numbers on our dice (which isn't good in this game).
The person who seemed to make any progress was Sam! Sam finally got into a position to take down and kill the head of HD, Inc on his North Atlantic private island. The way the dice turned out, not only did she succeed wildly, she spent her dice reducing the power level of the faction. Additionally, since the character retired, another conflict roll occurs doing damage to the faction and she reduced the power level of the HP inc faction to zero! She killed the company!
This was awesomely narrated by Sam's player (not me) and Ben (playing HP inc for this scene) about how we see higher ups of Holistic Prosperity were turning a blind eye to this assassin. They wanted their aging visionary out of the picture! But they underestimated Sam. Sam not only got in undetected by the corporation and killed her target, she killed him with the same experimental drug that killed his brother!
The consequences of this drug and its revelation to the world in the autopsy meant ruin for the HP Inc! We ended the night there.
So Remember Tomorrow has a lot of complicated rules to it. Story Games Seattle, after numerous play throughs, distilled the game into this faster paced essence. The changes can be seen below!
The complete rules changes are here!
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.
It isn't everyday you get to play a game with its designer. Originally Downfall's game was to be facilitated by me, but after Caroline asked to join my table there was NO way I'd feel confident enough to facilitate a game for its own designer. We were joined by another story game veteran and friend of mine, Tim.
Now, for those who haven't seen my first encounter with Downfall or saw my video play of it, Downfall is a game about societal collapse. Society has a cancer at its heart called the flaw and this flaw is gunning to take the down the world as we know it. One hero rises to the occasion to get society to see this problem for what it is and save civilization from itself, but tragically will fail. This is a game where the hero loses.
Like all games of Downfall, the first thing we do is come up with a flaw and describe what it means. Since my previous two games were Nationalism or Pride I was hoping for something different. Immediately Tim and myself jump to the same flaw: Complacency.
Caroline is excited as well and begins to ask us what we think complacency means. This quick discussion was incredibly important. We settled on complacency not necessarily being okay with the status quo, but being fine enough to not want to change it. Complacency implies a certain threshold of dissatisfaction, but the effort to make the change is perceived as too great or costly for what is gained. It has a lot in common with Tradition so far that "because we've always done it" is the same icing on this flaw cake, but Complacency is made with the ingredient of "because changing what we do requires too much effort" instead of "because our way of life is deserve of being protected/repeated because it is a part of what makes us who we are culturally."
Design note/opinion: Starting with the flaw first, before anything else is done is a very deliberate idea. I think talking about the flaw, not in a contextual/setting format (yet) allows everyone to really explore and flag what they want in the game from a thematic angle. Everyone sharing what they think the flaw means, to them, allows for each of us shape the game in a way that's fun for everyone and hits the right notes!
The next part of the setup of Downfall was coming up with our game's elements. Elements are the creative seeds or palette which inspire us and our setting. Our three elements for defining our culture were Rain, Wheel, and Ink.
The combination of all 3 of these yielded a lot of discussion. We weren't entirely sure how all three of these things would work together. My first idea seeing Rain, Wheels, and Ink was Mad Max post-apocalypse with Ink clearly being an analog for oil. Caroline suggested in a similar post apocalyptic vein that we do Waterworld instead. Tim had this idea of waterwheels from rain for power and I immediately began thinking of steamer ships/gambling barges with waterwheels. We began to composite a form of all of our ideas. We're looking at this hive of ships lashed and pulled together stuck in a sea of oil which relied on rain. It was a really unique setting!
Design note/opinion: Elements are probably an unspoken hero of the design of Downfall to me. Seriously, the choices in the book for elements just OOZE flavor and ideas on how to twist these concepts shape our world. The decision to use three elements instead of one or six is about the right size to ensure us as players of this game DELIVER on these elements in the game. I think the moment when the Flaw and the elements are decided on is one of my favorite times of this game. It's that "okay so how does this all fit together?" moment.
It vaguely feels like that time as a Dungeon Master when you roll on a random encounter table and are stumped when you get THAT MONSTER in THIS RANDOM LOCATION and are forced to be like, "so why is THAT here?" only now three people get to experience that at the same time. I found out that Caroline's husband Marc played a big part in the creation of Elements so big shout out to Marc!
So how do we start putting the pieces together in our setting and haven? Traditions. In Downfall we select 6 traditions total to be eligible sacrifices to the flaw in our haven. Let me tell you-- Complacency is HARD to represent in flaws. Our traditions became a hodgepodge mix of "old ways of doing things that probably should be fixed, but never gotten around to it." I unintentionally came up with the reason why. Our society's justice system emphasized Duels. Serious disputes were settled on the dueling grounds. It was strongly emphasized to settle matters beforehand or before they get this far. Because dueling for your life and belief was how things were secured in the life of our haven, people were reluctant to have their voice heard. Our society was left with a decrepit monarchy ruling from the largest steamship overseeing a society where shoes were assigned to you from birth and everyone is named after one of the 12 founding names.
I really loved Caroline's addition in our game that families stay together. Divorce is an EXTREMELY rare occurrence. I loved her take on complacency in relationships and how her mind jumped to that during the first round of traditions. I never mentioned it at the table, but that was like tasting chocolate for the first time. I immediately CRAVE to do that in my games from now on. As a player and gamer I should pay more attention to that lens and explore that space more often!
Design note/opinion: I think the physical symbols of the traditions are important in this part of the tradition building because these symbols become interactional items in fiction. These symbols are props for us players to use to establish routines in our game that occur and use as foils and juxtapositions over the course of the game to see how our society is changing! I thought, at first, that the symbols aren't very necessary, but now after the third game I definitely see their reincorporation throughout the game should be stressed. They are an excellent tool.
With our haven and setting established, it was finally time to make characters. Our hero was Boots, a lowly orphan-like girl who worked as a Cobbler. Cobblers in our setting were a nice term for the person responsible for gathering the dead from duels, disposing of the bodies, and storing of their shoes for reuse by others. We all agreed that we kind of were after a "vs the empire" kind of story so we had our hero Boots be against the Monarchy. Our Fallen and primary antagonist would be Boots best friend, Zephyr. Zephyr grew up alongside the same social status as Boots, but would be promoted to become a distinguished member of the monarchy's government. In fact, she was married into the royal family because of Boots giving Zephyr some fancy shoes one time as a gift! Ouch! (Yay reincorporating elements!) Last but not least, our pillar was Spoke. Spoke was an older lady who was in a rough marriage and took pity on boots. She was a sort of parental/guardian figure for Boots.
Our gameplay and scenes were completely on point this game. Tim, Caroline, and myself brought some really, really good ideas to the table. Our abilities to keep recycling and reincorporating fictionally established elements (foreshadowing Zephyr's rise), discovering how Boots dreams of a bigger life and it being framed as her being just "unhealthy and can never appreciate what she has", and the ultimate Downfall where Boots lead a revolution against the government who ultimately escapes on their self-powered steamship was just amazing. Caroline forced me near the end, as the Hero, to make a choice. Boots was pressured as leader of this new band to return to a method of government that requires the application of force and fear to rule. She became what she hated. Beautiful stuff. That's why I play games!
Design note/opinion: Each "round" the pillar describes how the flaw is progressing and corrupting a tradition as a sort of primer for scenes. Then the hero makes a scene and then the fallen returns the favor with a scene of their own. Having erroneously skipping the pillar's description of the corruption before, scene framing was much easier this time around.
So in summary, I love this game. Please, please, please check out Downfall if you ever get a chance. It's an amazing game.