Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Playtesters are ACE!

I know, I know, I have said it before but honestly the lengths that some people go to in order to help you out in a game really makes my jaw drop. I just received the report back from my playtest group in Aberdeen. Now, I expected a few bullet points, a paragraph or two talking about play experiences etc. No. Not at all.

What I got was a 2500 word document that ran through the scenario they played and some of the exciting things they did with the system and then an excel spreadsheet noting every single issue that came up, even the most minute - with a number, date, seriousness level, identified problem and the work-around they used. 51 seperate areas in detail.

Want more? OK, they are going to be down in Newcastle this weekend and we will be able to sit down and have a long chat about the game and what they liked and didn't like and how it could be improved.

Seriously, I am spoiled. I read on sites about designers who sent out dozens of playtest packs and receive nothing back - or moreover they cannot find anyone who will give them the time of day. I have been blessed with a network of testers who seem to be trying to out-do each other in the quality they are adding to the mix.

I'm a very happy man


ps. Oh and they liked the game an awful lot!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Scary Stuff

We often take things in the world for granted - I'm not talking about things like Dr Who or Jessica Alba or the existence of Pepperoni - for once I am being a little more serious. I'm talking about senses.

For the last week I have had periodic hearing from my right ear. It comes and goes and when it goes I feel like I am underwater. It also comes with a nice bit of pressure running through my head. Now, I have to admit, the novelty has worn off and the fact that the antibiotics I have been prescribed are doing fuck and all has hit home. Add to that the fact that my other ear is starting and I am slightly worried. What if this is something serious?

What if I go deaf?

I think deafness is seen as one of the least serious disabilities. You can still see, read, speak, taste, move etc. However to me it is horrific. No more television except for subtitles and silly signing people. No more music. No more cinema. No more roleplaying! My work - mostly done on the telephone - would be almost impossible. My entire way of life would have to change radically. Its actually shook me to the core a little.

We take things for granted until they are taken away - lets hope this is just an infection that won't budge!


Monday, January 21, 2008

Childbirth was easier!

Well, for me anyway

Duty & Honour is out into its third round of playtesting and this time it's blind public 'beta' testing. No contact with me allowed. The text has to live and breathe by itself. I sent out abour half-a-dozen packs to willing vic---volunteers and then the wait began. I waited and waited and waited until finally last night I received this:

Right; that's session one complete - a marathon 9 hours, with about half spent on character and regiment creation, and half spent on play! Much fun had, and a rack of notes taken We're about halfway through their first mission, which involves hopping behind Frog lines to try to work out when the French will be moving against the British lines, and how. The complication is that the encamped French are holding a hostage in the form of the local Contessa to keep the local people (and the Count) in line. They've got the plans, but have just found the hostage - we'll see what they do next Sunday !! Proper report will follow once I've typed it up, but everyone was very positive about the game

Which is awesome - but now, NOW, I have to continue my waiting even longer until the report comes back. Honestly, labour was easier - at least I could have a sly chug on the gas and air occassionally!


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Top Three Gaming Moments of 2007

Inspired by Sons of Kryos - and knowing how much my delightful cabal of readers like adding to these threads - I thought I would share my top three gaming moments of 2007. And in true 411Wrestling Top Ten style I will add some honourable mentions as well:

Honourable Mention: Attending GenCon US
You'd think this would come higher right? Well, it was an amazing experience and just the most mind-blowing information dump of gaming goodness. However it was also a bit of a disappointment because of my foot problems and generally being unable to move or concentrate. I did hardly any gaming and was very weak and shite. This year will be different however. This year I know the score. This year I will be bringing the awesome back to GenCon.

Honourable Mention: Ben's As Yet Untitled Horror Campaign
It's Primetime Adventures but not as you know it when Ben takes centre-stage with his game. We hear a lot about player empowerment and shared narrative but sometimes - just sometimes - you want to sit back and watch a master GM practice his craft. I've never played with someone who does such evocative prep as Ben - its a pleasure to play.

Honourable Mention: Blood Opera Conspiracy of Shadows at FurnaceCon
This was one of those games where everyone was totally hitting the right spot and sharing the same idea about the game around the table. We grumbled, groaned, ranted and plain out shouted at each other in the silliest of faux-Russian accents but we were always totally in the game and ready for whatever shennanagins were thrown at us. Lord only knows what the other players at the 'Con must have thought!

Top Gaming Moment#3: The Fall of the Black Bear Clan in Pendragon
When Sir Brion's warpath against the Saxons resulted in this clan attacking his manor and killing his twin offspring, it sent him mad. He was only calmed down by his friend, the Christian Knight Sir Aeryn and pointed in the correct direction. He exploited his position as Sarum's warleader, his family connections with the King of the Forest Sauvage and his right as an Irishman to lead a warband and brought his forces to meet the Black Bears and their allies. He crushed them, cleaving their leader in half with one blow and satisfying his pact with the warrior goddess Morrigan. As a storyline it was excellent but as a series of play it hammered home exactly what Brion is about and marked his role in the campaign - War Leader.

Top Gaming Moment#2: Betrayal in Chicago at FurnaceCon
Playing Mob Justice with it's writer Iain McAllister I was playing one of three brothers whose father had just been assassinated. Revenge, violence, intrigue, loyalty - all of these things flashed through our minds but when the cards came down (quite literally in Mob Justice!) it became obvious we were on a losing streak. I had to make a decision. I had to switch sides. I nearly killed my mother. I did frame my brothers and put them in the middle of a horrid firefight. In the end my character was assassinated on a sunny beach in Cancun. Excellent excellent game.

Top Gaming Moment#1: The Tank, CottageCon I
Thrilling Tales, Spirit of the Century - 'What's that coming over the hill?' Grabs token, Tags aspect. ' Its a TANK!!' - in game terms I might as well have said 'Oh great, they've brought a Cave Troll!'. That was the moment when the wholesome goodness of SotC finally sank in and I GOT IT and then well, we just went wild. It was an excellent session with some superb stuff in it and easily ranks as my best moment of the year.

So, faithful readers - what are yours?


Saturday, January 05, 2008

At Last! It's Done

I literally kicked everyone out of the house, turned off the radio and the TV, closed down my AIM and MSN utilities and went for it. After a night red-penning my manuscript came a day altering, editing and then rewriting a load of examples but .... finally .... the third iteration of Duty & Honour has been completed and is ready to head out to the playtesters. This time I have people in Newcastle, New Zealand, Ireland, London and Scotland all waiting to receive the manuscript and it is definitely more polished than the last one that went out.

There have been some definite changes to the way some of the things work - so 'Experiences' replace 'Years' in character generation as a really good solution to one of the problems that we experienced earlier. The Wealth system is in place, the role of the Skirmish Rules in Military Missions has been expanded and the system for designing your own Missions is included - which is pretty useful as it is the entire point of the Mission/Challenge/Reward system!

One or two things have been removed - the formalised 'background questions' have gone in this iteration as the new Experience and Regiment system produce more than enough flags and story fodder for a starting character to deal with! Upon reading more of the Matthew Hervey books by Allan Mallinson I've decided to remove the Cavalry option for play and instead develop a small addition to the rules that covers this area of Wellington's forces. It offers plenty of new professions, traits, skills and other rules that can be used. I'll use this as a test bed before I tackle the next big project which would be the naval version of the game, Heart of Oak.

So, as of Monday, the game will be in the hands of the playtesters and we will see whether it gets a better response than the last time. Thats not to say it didn't get a good response like, but I'm hoping it begins to move towards something that is at least ashcan-able.



Friday, January 04, 2008

You May Never Game With Me Again

As I was wandering towards the Metro station this morning I was pondering some of the stuff that I have read recently on some message boards. Oh yes, what an amazingly exciting life I lead!

In this thread on Story Games, Judd is asking about examples of things that go on in roleplaying sessions alongside kickers and bangs. He calls them crosses, weavings, openings and bobs.

In this thread on Ian's blog he talks about putting some of the old 'indie games angst' aside in order to actually, you know, happily play.

And on this thread Ian points to a man who has a serious problem with some aspects of gamer theory and the way it can be represented.

These three all came to mind at once and I wondered what it must be like running a game where your mind is, in one small part, working on the theory side of things, whilst the rest is working on the imaginative side? Is it even possible to be doing that without being Deathstroke the Terminator (ok, DC reference, supervillain who 'uses 90% of his brain')? Does anyone actually sit down at a table and think "Hmmm... this is an intersitial scene between these two protaganists which will be followed by this bang, feeding off those three flags on the character sheet...'

(Warning - for those that find references to sex so cringeworthy that you feel the need to say things like 'Eww' and 'To much information!!' at the thought of basic human reproduction, best move on...)

It came to me that GMing is a bit like sex. When you start off, you know roughly what you have to do and you can do it, fumblingly. Sometimes it's good but most of the time it's too hard, too fast and rarely satisfying. As you become a little more experienced to realise that there's more to it than the actual act itself and that you can enhance things with a bit of technique. Later still you begin to learn just when to do one thing, then another and then another. You know when to speed up, slow down, move here, do that etc etc. It becomes ... instinctive. Later still, to carry on the analogy, some people like to add new things to spice it up a little, drift off from one partner to try something with another or eventually just find out they are doing it so intermittantly that they never bother again. (And of course to carry it to its furthest point, yes WoW is to roleplaying as online porn is to sex!)

My point being that rarely do people think 'Ok, time for a nipple tweak' or 'hmm, should I be changing angle here or waiting another minute or two?' - its just something that happens. So whilst I'm aware that being aware of these various GMing methods can help you understand what is happening when you play, I wonder whether they actually do HELP when it comes down to playing or whether, when the chips are down, we tend to resort to the instinctive practices that we are comfortable with and that have worked for us in the past? And is that necessarily a bad thing? I'm not sure it is.

I am now assured that should any of the games that I have detailed below happen, someone will be thinking ' .... he says its a fight, but is he really tweaking my nipple?!'


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Nothing ... and then Three At Once

As I sat running my red pen over the final pre-playtest draft of Duty & Honour, it struck me that I might well have three whole games to run in the very near future. Bearing in mind that the most I have ran for the last 18 months has been a slack handful of one session tests, this is a remarkable sea-change and to be frank, quite a welcome one at this point in time.

The first, naturally, is the playtest of Duty & Honour. By the nature of the game it is quite an easy thing to run although mentally the challenges of playtesting whilst refereeing are far greater than those of just running a game. The previous two test sessions haven't really got beyond chargen but they have radically changed the game and improved it no end. I imagine I should run about a 4-5 session test mini-campaign over the spring months.

The second is another playtest - this time it is Malcolm Craig's Cold City follow-up creation Hot War. This is a post-apocalyptic setting in the 1960s after the Russians released nuclear and twisted technology weapons lose upon the UK. I'm planning on running it as a loose (and I mean very loose) sequel to the Cold City game that we have just played under Andrew and it should last again, about four sessions including one character generation session as this seems to be a tad more involved than the Cold City version.

The third, strangely, is possible return in some arena of Pulsars & Privateers! Ian has written in his 2008 Gaming Resolutions that he is determined to get me to resurrect this campaign because it was prematurely canned due to work pressures. I have to say, I agree with him - having looked back over some of the material I think there is a definite possibility of a revised and sharpened version of P&P somewhere on the horizon. I have NO idea what system it would use. Now that we have some experience of it I'm awfully tempted to suggest Primetime Adventures or I may lump for the more mechanical 'Fate 3.0 SRD' hack method. I doubt the Unisystem Lite rules will remain if I do. Looking back at the characters there's a ton of stuff that I see which should be exploited and a load of stuff that could have been done so much better.

Of course, the question will be - if the previous episodes were the pilot does it get another run or does it jump straight to DVD? It's a prime candidate for a game to play in a Pendragon break and its a prime candidate for a session at CottageCon II. We shall have to wait and see....