Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Game of Two Sessions

This Sunday we played what was effectively the first of three 'double sessions' in the run up to CottageCon. This Sunday we teamed up our normal Pendragon game with character generation for Spirit of the Century.

SotC looks like a great game and the character generation was definitely an event. I'm a fervent advocate of group character design and that character design walking hand-in-hand with the flavour of the campaign. Not only does it build deeper, richer characters but it also welds the issues of the characters to the campaign setting and the adventure. It totally bypasses the old 'Patron meets you at an Inn (and associated variations)' stereotype and plunges fully flegded characters into their own action. SotC does this magnificently, especially with the 'guest novel' section.

Of course, muggins here had to make it a little more complicated by creating a character that is essentially a support character rather than a square jawed hero type. He (for he has no name yet, although it will no doubt be something alliterative) is a butler-par-excellence, a member of the League of Gentlemen's Gentlemen. Unflappable, immensely resourceful, contacts around the world, impeccably English with a thick streak of working class sensibility. Like The Rescuers, the LoGsG are dispatched to ensure that some irrational explorer isn't gobbled up by zombie pygmies in a creased suit during his sojourn to the depths of the Amazon.

The game threw up a definite African theme, with the main villain appearing to be the nefarious Zo Khath Ra! I'm thoroughly looking forward to serving up cucumber sandwiches and delivering stiff right hooks in defiance of the bounder.

One thing I find saddening about SotC however, and I have seen this of a number of so-called indie games, is that they do seem to have low repeat play value. I think we virtually covered every pulp base we could think of with our characters and whilst it would take many sessions to drag every thread out of that, if we were to run another game, I wonder how much variation we would see. I don't know why I feel that way - as opposed to say D&D - but its a possibility.

Then after the obligatory pizza break, we moved onto Pendragon and the climax of my feud with the Black Bear Clan. For those who haven't been keeping track, my knight Sir Brion, has been making quite the reputation for himself killing saxons since Day One of the campaign. As a result the Black Bear Clan declared a blood feud on him. Now, in the early days, this was simply an excuse for me to kill yet more saxons in exciting and bloody ways, but later they started playing things a little more canny. First, they attacked me directly in battle and *shock* went for the horse! And then they sent a raiding party to attack my homestead and killed two of my horde of children. Now, Brion is renowned for his Love (Family) so he went a bit mental, was shook out of it by Sir Aeryn the Elder and then progressed to enact a grand plan of revenge that included being blessed by Morrigan, travelling back to Ireland and invoking family law to raise his clan and enlisting the aid of his father-in-law, the King of the Forest Sauvage.

So, it came to pass that around 300 knights, bowmen, spearmen, mercenaries, swordsmen, hobgoblins, spriggans and elf-hounds met 260 Black Bear clan, Boar clan, trolls and turncoat BASTARDS from Huntingdon.

Now, we have a saying in our group - dramatically appropriate dice - and this session they were at home and having a party! Prior to the battle, Sir Aeryn the Younger (he who wants to be me) tried to lead the lifting of a siege and managed to fail around 75% of his battle rolls. The young pretender won the day, but his losses were grave and all of the enemy knights escaped intact. He still has a lot to learn about the art of war.

The old master however, warlord of the Countess' armies, lead his men to a total victory, with the mercenaries (and Aeryn the Elder) seeing off the men of Huntingdon, the main body of spear and sword (with Sir Merrin) decimating the Boar clan and myself, Aeryn, Guillame and my Irish horde laying waste to the Black Bear. It was a bloody affair - for them - with our side only suffering 9 casualties! The corn from that field will grow red with their Saxon blood for a long time.

The downside? I sometimes wish there was more room for roleplaying and showboating in the Pendragon battles. They are excellently executed representations of dark ages battle - random, visceral affairs - but in the end, my confrontation with the Black Bear Chieftain was simply a two round battle. He scratched me, I criticalled and gutted him. Maybe the denouement will come next session. Almost certainly I think that it is my responsibility to make more of it.

Next session we move from the sublime to the ridiculous, and the generation of 18th level D&D characters. I shudder to think....



Anonymous said...

Regarding your comment about how sad it is SotC has low repeat value, and the limiting nature of Indie Games generally. I thought about whether I should respond, or just shake my head in disbelief, but I decided I couldn't let it lie.

I'm not sure I believe this Indie Games are limiting line anymore, while it is true of some games (and even then I think it's largely about what measurements you are using to define the limit), it's certainly not true for the latest generation of them. I hold that The Burning Wheel, Spirit of the Century, Primetime Adventures, Sorcerer and probably a whole host of others I can't name are in no way more limiting than traditional games – assuming that term is even valid.

Spirit of the Century is no more limiting than any other game set in a specific genre. It's a clear sign that that your thoughts haven't been thought through, or you're using slightly mad measurement criteria.

In terms of characters, we haven't even touched the surface. When considering characters you have two factors: marking them mechanically different and making them dramatically different. In terms of making them mechanically different we haven't touched the service, even a basic analysis of the 28 skills, combined with say three key unique stunt combinations for each brings out a total of 84 substantially, mechanically unique characters, And that's only the surface. The issue is though, this is almost not the point, as people focus on characters being substantially mechanically different, when really what's important is they are dramatically different and Aspects are only limited by the imagination of the player and provide a way to get the story to the table. As a result, I put it that the game actually has a more varied potential character base than a lot of other games. It doesn't limit characters over time either, as the Aspects reflect the flow of the story, Aspects may change over time to reflect how the story for the character has changed.

Is the game limited by its genre? Possibly, but this is a bit of a straw man argument that applies to everything. Does every espionage game about elite super spies have a cripplingly low level of replay value, such as D20 Spycraft? Does every game about brash, commercial fiction, contemporary action adventure, say D20 Modern? I think not in both cases, and keep in mind both of these genres can be absorbed by 1930's pulp anyway, just given the right trappings.

Is it true that pulp characters fall into specific types? Of course it is, but then it's my experience D&D characters fall into specific types, spy genre characters fall into specific types, Star Wars characters as well, as do Space Opera ones generally. Hell superhero ones do as well. All genres have their broad archetypes, it's not necessarily that limiting as just with novels, which continually re-use the same archetypes all the time, the truth is in the implementation and as long as the characters representing that archetype is a different character, back to the Aspects again.

I honestly believe D&D produces less character variation than SotC would over time (or similar games), as it comes down to what measures you are using. Yes, D&D may produce more diversity in terms of mechanical stuff, but I have my doubts to some degree, but it doesn't necessarily produced a more varied range of actual characters in a dramatic sense.

I could go on, but the truth is SotC isn't any more limiting than a vast list of other games, unless you're comparing it to GURPS or something, but then those sorts of games are bland to the extreme and even D&D pales in comparison on that level.

It's not actually that limiting, this isn't to say I would advocate playing it for years on end, but then I wouldn't advocate we do anything in that regard.


Vodkashok said...

I'm glad you replied because I think rather than my ideas being ill thought through, they are merely badly represented. And so...

The way I see our games, we tend to succeed when we present the freely formed 'essence' of a game. When we played D&D we did it open-concept and saw where it lay. When we did Buffy again, we did a very loose concept. SotC is an exceptionally loose concept and we ran with it in all sort of exciting directions. This is not a bad thing, this is a very good thing.

What it means, to me, is that we have a massive amount of wiggle room within the games to have all of the fun that we desire within the genre. In my minds eye, when we are successful we seek to throttle every iota of goodness from a game. Its a great rollercoaster of fun.

However, the upshot of this is that when we seek to revisit the games, there always seems to be a case of retread. The Return to the Crescent Sea simply wasn't anywhere near as engaging as the original. The rumblings of a third Buffy season always seemed stretched and derivative. I suspect should we ever play Pendragon again, it will not be anywhere near as good.

To recap: when we throw everything into a new game, I sometimes feel that we spend ourselves on that game wholesale and leave very little room to revist it.

So yes, it's not the fault of the game itself (I can see how SotC could actually be very easily tweaked to just about any genre or setting, and I'd have to have had a sudden blow to the skull not to realise that we haven't ran the permutations of the system) nor of the players - it's just how I feel after a successful campaign. An idea of not wanting to revisit something thats been so enjoyable.

Note as well, that I said it was 'saddening' that I felt this way? I actually dislike the idea that once a game is played, it is unlikely that we will play it again, because some games are awesone. I guess thats why I used Buffy for P&P and use Pendragon for Duty and Honour. Its a chance to revisit systems that might be seen in a 'been there, done that' light.

The only game I don't feel like that with is D&D. That could mean that I am wholly deluded in my assumptions. It could mean that I might have wholly different views as my time as a player extends further - that could well be the case as I can see the value of playing the same game under a different GM.

So, low replay value in our group rather than in general. Thats what I meant.


Anonymous said...

If we remove all the game, system, indie stuff from the equation - I agree, something in the way we play would exhaust the idea to the extent it would not be done again.

What that actually it is in how we play, I'm not overly sure, but it does seem to be the case.

I would also throw this in: you say this is not true for D&D, but I'm not 100% sure that has been seriously tested. No D&D game has reared it's head as a serious proposition like Crescent Sea, and any D&D game that has been ran has been a hollow experience in comparison.

I will note at this point I don't see this as a problem for Andrew's game on the weekend, as it's being run on a totally different, high energy, event basis.

But I'd say 'another D&D campaign' hasn't been tested, and we may well have burned that out as well to a degree.

But yes, generally speaking, this does give us problems for games, of whatever stripe, that are instrinsically linked to a genre - as we rightly or wrongly, feel we burn it out in one 'campaign'.

Maybe the different with D&D, and to some extent other games, is they are not so genre tied, and that's the difference, not so much mechanics or any other esoteric label.

René López Villamar said...

"One thing I find saddening about SotC however, and I have seen this of a number of so-called indie games, is that they do seem to have low repeat play value."

Well, I've read your response to anonymous, and it makes me wonder why put the stress on the 'indie' games. It seems like you have this sort of problem with all kind of games, not just indies. So maybe you were trying to say that all RPGs have low replay values, for you, except D&D. But what you actually said was way different, and could be very badly interpreted.

On the same vein, I do think SotC, as a setting, has a huge replay value. I would argue more to the point, but this maybe just is a matter of taste.

D&D isn't a setting, is a system, so I think you confuse this. Perhaps one shot of Eberron would be enough for you, but then a shot of FR, or Midnight, or whatever. So, you might be trying to imply that settings have low replay value. Again, I can't understand why you tie this to 'indie' games.


Vodkashok said...

First off, welcome to the Bottom of the Glass, Rene. Despite working in and around the internet for years, it still gives me a buzz when random banality from Newcastle gets someone reading from Mexico.

I take your point wholeheartedly. I think we established later on that my words could have been chosen a little better, in that within our group all games have very limited (rather than little - the potential is there, the will is lacking) replay value.

I think the differentiation you make between setting and system actually hits far closer to the feelings that I have about the games. We are less likely to revisit a 'setting' than we are a 'system'. SotC, when presented open and naked, as it was, felt very much like a setting as well as a system. Again, this could just be me - a matter of taste as you call it. I can see where it would go to be far more than that and I would love to see something done with it like that because it looks like a truly great game.

One final thing - it would be easy for me to go back, in retrospect, and alter a few words in my entry which would represent my feelings a lot more. I'm not a big fan of that because I'd rather be seen as saying something daft than show disrespect to my contributers by throwing their comments out of context.

Thanks for the comments and enjoy great games.


Anonymous said...

I'm the other guy posting on these comments, I've just logged in this time.

I think setting and system has something to do with it. I also think there is something nebulus in between that we tend to do and that is pitch a concept, and then we burn out on the concept in what are relatively short campaigns (which I'm not complaining about).

So, Crescent Sea was the epic fantasy pitch. Slaying Days was the Buffy spin-off series pitch. Pulsars and Privateers was the Space Opera pitch (not burned out I'm guessin). Thrilling Tales is the pulp pitch, and has Neil suggests, it isn't narrowly defined pulp either, it's grand globe-trotting adventure pulp which did offer the opportunity to burn a lot of potential advenues in one campaign.

As a result, when I the system is intrinsically linked, quite tightly with the pitch, it stands a chance of being burned out as well. I think this will happen with Spirit of the Century through Thrilling Tales, but in a way, that is a good thing as it means people are playing with passion.

This having passion for the game is critical to the group, as I'm not sure we play half switched on, and if we get a sense we are the game tends to die - witness Werewolf.

Systems that can accomodate multiple pitches or a wider variety of pitches can survive the burning out on the concept/pitch. As an example I'm sure I could have done M&M 2nd Edition pulp, fantasy superheroes and contemporary superheroes and M&M would have lasted through them - but we may not have revisted each of those pitches.

I also think multiple settings could survive if different enough pitches/concepts arose in those settings, but this has less chance of happening.

This seems to be largely how our group operates.


Anonymous said...

Or not logged in as the case maybe...grrr :)


René López Villamar said...

Thanks for the welcome.

First, let me tell you that you sound like one of the best RPG groups I've ever heard of. To play with such passion that you don't want to repeat the role because it was such a success is a thing worthy of admiration. The fact that you're open to a lot of genres and systems is also worthy of admiration.

I also love the idea of pitching each game and then going for it. You seem to have one of the healthiest groups in the history of RPGs! (and I wish I was exaggerating)

Last, as the obvious SotC fan that I am, I would like to point out that there are some interseting things to be done with the FATE system that aren't inherently pulpy.

For example, my take on Middle Earth:

And Fred's adaptation of Dictionary of Mu:

Anyway, I'll be reading you more now I found your blog and added it to Google Reader. You have some cool ideas here.

Anonymous said...

I must admit, I'm not sure I thought of it this way until this thread kicked off. I suppose it does have it's positives:)

As an aside, and excuse to pimp sites, the gaming gets blogged here as well (among a lot of other things). Key games we've played before:

Pendragon Game

Pulsars and Privateers (Space Opera)

Thrilling Tales (SotC)

Anyway, advert over - but your comments have made me think.


Vodkashok said...

Damn you O'Rourke! Putting all of the P&P stuff in one place, easily referenced, just sitting there. Waiting.

Goddamit man!!!!!!!

Yes Rene, blogging is a big part of our gaming life. Whilst 4/6 of our group play WoW and 3/6 drink together regularly, we rarely have a chance to discuss our games informally. I've found that both blogs given a great arena for constructive feedback and in some ways a sort of 'post-combat analysis' of GMing performance.

Thanks for the (very) kind comments about our gaming style. I'm looking forward to having the time to explore those links a little more. It looks very interesting at first glance. VERY interesting!


Anonymous said...

Just to reply to what Rene (very kindly) posted.

I think our group does benifit a great deal from that maturity (we're all mostly thirtysomethings, with me actually being the youngest at 28) of the players in terms of a complete lack of gaming "drama", which I've seen affect a number of otherwise functioning gaming groups over the years, and the simple fact that we're all friends, and all quite experienced RP-ers in our advancing years (hell, at this rate we'll be RP-ing at the Old Peoples Home :-) ).

That maturity does come with a hefty downside though. Cancelled sessions because of unavoidable real-life sessions, we might have all had a heavy week at work and all turn up exhausted to the session, and so forth. All of the expected things that get throw at a group of adults with family and girlfriend commitments.

I do though, consider myself very lucky to be in such a good RP group, and have such a good group of friends. I mean, for my stag "week" (weekends are so passe :) ) about half of us are flying over from the UK to the US Gencon, looking at about a cost of $2,000 each (with beer money) for doing so. I mean, what a great group of friends for an guy to have :-)

I've bounced through a number of RP groups over the years; from my High School 14-18 yo group, to a very mixed University group I was with where we did a wide swathe of games, to a post University group I was in where we did mostly Vampire & Star Wars, and certainly, this group actually *really* gets the RP aspect of the game. Dice rolling for fun, we all know, is not much fun. As me and Neil once discussed, WoW or NeverwinterNights actually does the dice rolling aspect of say D&D much better (and much quicker) than a Face to Face game ever can.

Added to that mix you have Ian, who probably reads too much for his own good :p and keeps pushing us for that "perfect game" (which, is obviously an unachieveable goal until you realise that the seeking of a "perfect game" is actually a worthy achievement in itself and it promotes and encourages improvement). Our recently returned to Newcastle Player, who has vast RP experience, and very much like Neil, always brings a "good game" to the table. And then we have our Current GM, who puts more effort into game planning than I've possibly ever seen anyone do, and our venue host, who is also hugely experienced and an all round nice guy.

Lastly, just think the simple fact that we are all open and honest about how the games are going is hugely important for us. When Pendragon wasn't quite working, we worked hard with our GM to as a group give him ideas as to how we could all turn it around. It's that kind of (dare I say collegic atmosphere with 2 of us being University Lecturers? :-) ) which helps.

Again, many thanks for your kind words.