We played three games on Saturday: Ocean, Montsegur 1244 and Lady Blackbird.
Ocean by Jake Richmond. This is a GM-less game in which the characters are amnesiacs in an underwater base, stalked by monsters. The aim of the game is to escape whilst trying to discover who the PCs are, what and where the base is and what the monsters are.
Our monsters were called unicorns and we gradually discovered the awful truth about who we were and what had happened to us. It was quite a short game, only just over two hours I think. The mechanic, which is similar to Fourpenny Touch or Sanity in Call of Cthulhu, is a death spiral representing the wear and tear on the PCs as they find out what is going on. This part of the game worked pretty well and on the whole it was a fairly satisfying game. The story made sense, everything was explained and we got into our roles to a certain extent. On the other hand, there wasn't so much depth as say, that other game of amnesiacs, Penny for My Thoughts. The development is mostly focussed on things outside the characters and it all happens so quickly that we were slightly at sea regarding the characters. I don't think anyone felt they got under the skin of them. I think this is partly because you start the game with just three facts and you have to do a lot of work as players to develop things and unless you're all on exactly the same wavelength from the start, it's hesitant.
Montsegur 1244 by Frederik Jensen is a game in which you play heretic Cathars caught in the real siege of Montsegur in 1244. It's a "story game about burning for your beliefs". There are 12 characters which are shared out between the players. Each character has a brief description which includes their position in Montsegur, their relationship to other characters and some questions which the player should seek to answer for that character in the course of play. These characters and the relationships are fixed. There are also four fixed rounds of play during which everyone frames a scene as well as a prologue and epilogue. The player who initiates a scene has narration rights over that scene. As such, it sounds like there's not much scope for play, everything seems fixed. But, obviously, this is not the case.
In some ways this is a similar game to Ocean (and Fourpenny Touch) as in it's almost like a scenario. However, the fact that it's more constrained than Ocean turns out to be a very good thing. The set-up is very rich in areas to explore, most of the characters are in complicated relationships and you couldn't say at the start what is going to happen to each individual even though the overall result is foretold. And there's enough that's already set that you can get right into character without the hesitancy that we had in Ocean. The other part of the mechanic, which adds something of a random element, is cards that allow the introduction of new story elements or taking over the narration. These are quite fun although I'm not sure that they're essential for the success of the game.
And, we had a great time. For me, this game generates the same kind of atmosphere as you get in a good LARP. There was quite a lot of interesting character play, pretty immersive, which I enjoy and just lots of good story.
Lady Blackbird is John Harper's free short game of swashbuckling space fantasy. It's not just a good game but also an excellent design, John being one of the current top bods in that regard. He's produced about 4 or 5 of these short games in the last year or so. In it you play the fugitive noble Lady Blackbird and the crew of the ship, The Owl, transporting her to her marriage with the pirate captain Jethro Flint. The system is basically the Solar System, derived from the Shadow of Yesterday. It's a quick and light system that is particularly suited to swashbuckling as players are encouraged to play to their characters' Keys, which are basically the way in which they can generate experience points. Examples are Key of the Hidden Longing, or Impostor. It's only 15 pages long and much of this is character sheets, each of which has a character write up and the rules. There is a single page of GM instructions which is basically, pick up on what the players are doing, ask them questions and go with the flow. The other duty is to set difficulty levels for tests.
The game starts with the Owl having been captured by an Imperial Cruiser The Hand of Sorrow and it proceeded in a series of scrapes and escapes. With three players and me as the GM, two of the characters were romantically involved so I introduced an NPC as love interest for the third. And it worked very well too. The system sits comfortably in the background, encouraging the players to keep in genre and rewarding them for it, whilst there was ample scope for derring-do and cracking dialogue. It was very enjoyable to run. We ended on the traditional cliffhanger as the owl crashed into the Pirate's hide-out.
Next up is Time & Temp on Wednesday.
Also, note that all these games were attractively produced. LB was in tones of rust with a great picture of the Owl, MS1244 was a medieval brown and Ocean light colours of the sea with cameos of characters exploring the base.