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Indiecon reviews

Hell 4 Leather (Facilitated by Rafu)
This is the game in which one player plays a dead biker and everyone else plays the Devil with whom he makes a pact and the other bikers whom he promises to kill. I'm not sure why the Devil wants his agents of mischief killed but still, it is something of an interesting premise for a scenario. We played it pretty straight, we were Norwegian Death Metal Bikers of the church burning variety. Simon did some pretty good grunting of the (semi-)musical variety. The Tarot is used for the game in providing themes for scenes and the resolution mechanic. The fiction is what makes characters more or less appealing to other players who have a chance to help them escape death. In the end, everyone died on the last turn of the card after escaping death for much of the game. I enjoyed the play but I don't see the need to every play it again. For me it was a scenario and whilst the tarot did provide interesting themes, I don't think there's enough in it to provide much replay value. Also I played the Fool, the central character throughout so had much more to do and much more narrative continuity of character. It was harder for the other players.

Hell For Leather (Facilitated by Dan)
I'd promised Sebastian that I'd run a game at the Con. I wasn't massively familiar with the rules but fortunately Dan signed up for my game and he'd played it several times. The idea is that the characters are bound together in running away from some great threat in the pursuit of some great prize. The default setting is The Running Man but that didn't appeal so we chose Dracula. The checkpoints were Escape from Dracula's Transylvania (were everyone person, animal or blade of grass is his), Take the Mace with the Splinter of the One True Cross from the Tower of London and Return to Dracula's Transylvania (where every etc ...) to find his Tomb. We were all members of the King's College 1874 Transylvania Expedition, an Alcoholic Doctor, Oblivious Vicar, Trigger Happy Brigadier, Hot Blooded Vicar's Daughter, Fraudulent Archaeologist and Cowardly Academic. The set-up, which includes a prologue for each character introducing them and the danger, was quick, produced a decent background in which to play and gave us strong indication of the themes which would emerge. The dice flicking system, in which you have to roll close to an ever growing tower of dice without knocking it over, is fun and produces genuine involvement from the players. All signs pointed to a great game. And yet ...

The first act was fine we encountered the Count in the prologue and then fled from the various dangers. Everyone made their rolls and so the fiction ticked over perfectly in time. Then it all went a bit pear-shaped in the second act. The problem is that when you make your rolls, you know how many scenes it's going to take until you get the required victory points for a scene (usually three or four). If you fail a lot of rolls, or don't even make them because the tower is high (which it is by the second act) and you knock it over before rolling then you start to run foul of the fiction, especially if you fail the last roll repeatedly.

So, for example, if you're trying to get into the Tower and you need a key but you've only got 3 of 9 required VPs. You've got 4 VPs riding on the scene so you might expect the next scene to be the last one in pursuit of the key. So you have to set the scene so that it's close to the end but not so close that if you fail you're any nearer the end. Alternatively you could go for something close but then have a big setback, so burgling Number 10 Downing St means you get arrested if you fail. If you do get arrested then escape from prison is the simple objective although I don't know what you'd do if you failed that. So, as you can see, you have to be really careful when describing scenes. Given that all had gone smoothly in the first act, we didn't approach the second with enough care and the mood fell a bit flat.

The third act worked a bit better, but even then we had to introduce what seemed like extraneous fictional elements to cope with the fact that we failed rolls. I think I'd like it better if you succeeded but failures count against you in the final act (which they do anyway because lower health means you have to throw the dice in progressively more awkward ways). There may also be a tendency to call for many rest scenes in the final act to rebuild health. I think we only had two rest scenes and that because the tower had got to 13 height, not to make it any easier at the end.

The finale was pretty good although the chance of winning was pretty low. We managed to do 8 of the 16 rolls required and the four deaths contributed a further 1 VP each which meant we'd killed Dracula but died in the attempt. This is a game in which skill at dice is a requisite for success.

Shock (Facilitated by Rafu and me)
This was, I'm ashamed to say, my first proper game. This is all the more sad that it was all kinds of awesome to the exent that I'll do a full post on this later on.

Esoterrorists (Run by Matt)
I've played this game before so I won't review the game just the session. We were dropped into Amsterdam (curiously also the setting for my only scenario) to deal with the death of an ex-agent. Then it all blew up in our faces. There was much interparty conflict and I went a little mad trying to kill several team members (unsuccessfully) before coming home quietly. The solution to the mystery was slightly too complicated but we did manage to avoid any kind of wide scale disaster and cover up any of the messes we made (the odd grenade through a car window). Matt did a very good job of running this, very on top of the background material and provided us with plenty of thrills and spills. The character packs were all had good stuff and whilst they were perhaps overlong, the bullet point summary was spot on. I very much enjoyed this game.

Rock of Tahamaat (Run by Rafu)
This game was written by Vincent Baker and only exists as a post on his blog. It was devised to illustrate the four steps of the IIEE model of conflict resolution. So the first stage is initiation (whether you can bring yourself to act), then it's intent (what are you trying to do) then execution (how well you perform), and finally effect (what happens).

You roll dice for each of the first three stages and then effect is narrated. The first dice roll is whether you dare act at all. If you fail at this stage nothing happens. This only occurred once in the whole game but was nevertheless an interesting outcome. There were four participants in the game, one GM, the Rock of Tahamaat (Larissa) and two players (Fred and me).

The Rock rules his space empire with an indomitable will, the players are mere nobodies unknown to their ruler. The GM's job is to set scenes, play NPCs and resolve conflicts. In particular he has to decide before the execution what the worst and best possible outcomes would be for the character in each conflict. Rafu did a great job of setting baroque scenes in this decadent space empire. Larissa job was to play the distant Rock in his Space Palace as his will is interpreted by three ever-kneeling psychics and passed onto flunkies to enact. The Rock rolls handfuls of dice and usually his will is enacted exactly as intended. It's I--E resolution for him. Also he never mentions any person by name, working at the macro level of guilds, cities and planets from his flunkies reports. He directly affects the macro level fiction for the characters.

Fred played a Murderer-for-hire whose story was one of a local power struggle between him, the authorities and his boss in the guild. This lead him, after a brief imprisonment, to set up his own guild and contend for power with his boss. The Rock was mostly pleased by this initiative as it would lead to better assassins but had his flunkies infiltrate the winning guild.

I played a disheartened philosopher, preparing himself to die. This lead to many Vancean scenes in which he had to defend himself from keepers of the philosophers' graveyard and ended up in prison. Fomenting revolt lead to escape but also the planet being embargoed by the Rock. There was nothing else to do but to surrender to the authorities and return to his cell.

I really enjoyed this game. Everyone gave their all and it lead to many fun scenes. I could see that the Rock's player might become bored with lack of involvement and they could possibly play the GM roll too but in this case Larissa was spot on with her disinterested manner and Rafu great at framing scenes and being the link between the micro and macro levels. My story was great fun and I'd certainly give this another go.

Montségur (Facilitated by Frederik)
This game is always a bit daunting at the start, you have four characters, a full relationship map and a timeline to contend with. This was only my second game but already it's one of my favourites. Fred's light touch means that all the background material is more for inspiration rather than restricting choices. Certainly the fiction provides constraints but they are never forced and feel organic. The individual instances of story goodness are too numerous to relate in full by Raimonde's discovery that his reason for housing the Cathars was built on a thirty year old lie was one stand out moment. It killed one character and destroyed the faith of a perfect.

Hot War (Run by Matt)
Another old favourite with the same Matt GMing who ran Esoterrorist. We have rather an overlap in games we like, he played in my Trail of Cthulhu (below). This time things had got pretty rough in the Underground and we'd been sent in for a shufty. A very enjoyable game of double dealing with each other and the authorities with everyone getting under the skin of their character. I felt a bit sorry for the Intelligence Officer who got so done over by the rest of us that he faked his own death at the end of the game. But not very sorry. He had started to investigate certain unsavoury irregularities in my past and I found the simple mechanic of changing the subject very useful in disarming attacks. ('Look! A zombie!')

Trail of Cthulhu (Run by me)
This was the second outing for my Pulp Trail game set in London in 1934 and inspired by chilledchimp's Guide to Occult London. It was also an opportunity for me to prove to a friend that Trail was a worthwhile addition to Mythos gaming. Unfortunately, given train times I only had 3 hours for what was really a 5 hour game so things got rushed in places by me saying "you go there, you get this clue" but I think I included enough for people who hadn't played to get a good flavour of what Trail is about. I also think that the scenario is pretty much good to go for playtesting, except for the writing up bit. I'll try to contact the players and get their reactions.

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