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July 1st, 2013

02:02 am - Legend of the Five Rings
I played Legend of the Five Rings tonight in an interesting scenario by Michael H that put together war, arranged marriages, and courtly maneuvering. There were five pregenerated PCs with name, stats, and the same basic setup: all were honorable unmarried women of the Crane clan friendly with each other. The hook was that we all had marriages arranged to the borderline dishonorable Scorpion clan to cement an alliance in our ongoing war with the Lion clan.

Laura as Asano the Shugenja / magician, younger sister of Kumi
Ben as Kumi the Poet, younger sister of Kumi, secret lover of Taehime
Madeline as Yasuyo the Courtier, older sister of Kumi and Asano, formerly betrothed to Tama's brother Goro killed in battle ten years ago
Michael S as Taehime the Warrior / Scout, younger sister of Tama, secret lover of Kumi
Myself as Tama the Warrior / Guard, older sister of Taehime,

Our betrotheds were:

Bayushi Renga - the beautiful poet, rumored to be possibly mad
Shosura Roukai - a wealth-seeker climbing out of misfortune; rumored to have unsavory connections
Bayushi Garou - a general who had killed a family member years ago; rumored to be strict but fair
Shasura Anou - a widower with a 4-year-old daughter; rumored to be holding a torch for his dead wife
Bayushi Kabe - a warrior implicated in treaty breaking years ago, but honorable since; rumored to be gone for long periods in duty for the emperor

I don't much like Japanese settings in general. Still, it was a fun scenario. High points for me:

1) Brainstorming background that included our families, the secret affair, and the dead brother.

2) Our friendly negotiating over who should be betrothed to which man, which brought up not just what we were willing to tolerate - but how we approached the problem. I was morose and resigned, while most of the others were practical.

3) Switching out parts to play the betrothed in their first conversation with each of us. I was curious to hear more of other people's conversations, though the way we did it did speed things up.

4) The mechanic of putting colored beads into cups for how the prospects of our marriage were shaping up. There were some unclear points, but actions that furthered prospects for a successful marriage resulted in blue beads, while actions that hurt prospects resulted in red beads. In the end, we drew a random bead for whether our betrothed survived the war.

Against the odds, my betrothed survived, while the two lovers both had their betrotheds die. Kumi and Yasuyo seemed leaning towards workable marriages, while mine seemed on a rocky path at best.

Minor issues:

1) The beginning had an information-gathering phase that could be sped up.

2) The dice-pool mechanic was involved, especially for issues that were minor to the point of the scenario.

3) I'm not sure how I would have fixed it, but the failure of Kumi's first poem seemed unsatisfying as did, Taehime's first major stealth - cheating at a drinking game. Those set the characters back, but I felt like they didn't really add to the story. These shouldn't automatically be successful, but somehow it felt that the failures were not very interesting.


I keep coming up with oddball characters. My character was obsessed with honor based on her powers and my interpretation. She was caught between doing well for her family by respecting this marriage, while hating the idea of being married to a dishonorable clan that had killed her brother. This meant a lot of difficult choices between blue and red beads.

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September 17th, 2011

12:11 pm - Pacificon 2011 Report
I just posted my Pacificon 2011 Report, linked as part of my Convention Reports Page.

On a related note for those in the Bay Area, there is a new convention called Big Bad Con that will be starting October 7-9. The schedule is posted, and signing up for games in advance will start tomorrow at 1:00PM.

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June 18th, 2010

01:52 pm - Spirit of the Century campaign wrap-up
I've posted a few times about previous games using the Spirit of the Century rules, collected under my SotC Tag. Recently, though, I've wrapped up my first run of it using the defined setting - the 1920s, playing members of the Century Club. We played about 10 sessions, rotating who GMed. Daniel made an extended blog post about it, along with a short LJ comment by snej, who started out as the first GM.

We made PCs twice with a full character-creation session each time, but I was absent at both of these and made my two PCs offline.

My first PC was a Chinese-American mastermind, Chuko Liang - named after the legendary strategist from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and partly patterned after pulp Chinese-American detectives like Hugh Wiley's James Lee Wong and Earl Biggers' Charlie Chan. I couldn't help but think of Bruce Baugh's New Horizons project for Evil Hat, currently in Limbo (cf. Bruce's LJ tags for the three project tags). He was fun, but it was a little awkward - partly in his being Chinese-American, and partly in trying to run a mastermind strategist rather than a two-fisted hero.

My second character was "Shifty" Henry - a former American gangster, whose trademark was in disappearing. This was a blast - especially riffing off of Jens' character, Rocco Malone - who was another clear archetype. Jens' background novel, "Rocco Malone is The Atom Smasher!", was inspiring:
Rocco turns to single-minded revenge after his mentor Marie Curie is assassinated in 1920 by a sinister cabal that she stumbled upon while investigating why the world's supplies of radium and pitchblende were being bought up: The Manhattan Project, a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy whose goal is to create atomic-powered weapons to terrorize the world!

The trail leads to a sinister mesa in the New Mexico desert where the villains, led by the absent-minded mastermind "Doc" Einstein, have their lair. Through a combination of violence and sarcasm, Rocco and Rosie are able to fight their way into the base, where, after a big fight with Dick "The Safecracker" Feynman, they set off a chain reaction that leaves the mesa-top a ruin of radioactive slag! But the villains make their escape too, and take the plans with them.

In response, I decided that Shifty's mentor was Frank Lloyd Wright, and he was trained in martial arts by Charlie Chaplin. His novel was when he was unwittingly drawn in to stop a plot by Salvadore Dali to freeze time.

Here's the short form of my thoughts on the system and setting as written:

1) On the strong side, invoking aspects and mook conflict worked very well. Picking stunts was interesting and many of the stunts were a lot of fun - "Vanish" and "Master of Disguise" come to mind, along with various gadget stuff.

2) On the weak side, some things were too slow: character creation, conflict against named NPCs, and looking things up in the book. Character creation is fun, but especially for a game that sells itself as a pickup game, it just takes too long. Parly, there's too many skills (28) and stunts (268). I think it would work better as a pickup game if there were many fewer choices and more that you could define on the fly. See Faster Conflicts on the SotC Wiki about that - we went with "hit points." Looking things up we just dealt with.

3) We gamely took most of the advice without worrying about details. The Centurion Club didn't really add much to the game, and forcing all characters to be the same age (all born Jan 1st 1901) didn't serve much purpose and minorly restricted backgrounds.

Here's my top five thoughts on what I might do next time I try this:

1) Organizations are organized, and need factions

Were I to do this with my own background, I'd want to make up more of my own Centurion Club background. I loved the mix of the real and fantastic for Rocco Malone and Shifty Henry's novels. I'd want to do similar as GM to make the Club easier for PCs to write themselves into.

2) Plan a focus

Rather than only tying the PCs together, I think it might help to focus the PCs by picking some themes and patterns for the group before making individual PCs and tying them together. i.e. Are they crime-fighters in New York City, or globe-trotting soldiers-of-fortune? I think there could be some general questions to answer for this.

3) Have social rivals besides lethal antagonists

Our PCs' nemeses were generally people to fight immediately. It would be interesting to also define NPCs who are opposed but more suitable for social conflicts rather than physical ones.

4) Limit Fate Points and use Faster Conflict

Our last two sessions, we started with 5 Fate Points instead of 10 - and we used the hit point option to speed conflicts.

5) Start with the action!

I started my session either from a cliffhanger at the end of the previous session, or with a "teaser" - a conflict that the PCs suddenly find themselves in the middle of. For example: the car from the airport is actually a death trap from their nemesis.

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May 10th, 2009

01:19 pm - Birthday Larp Report
So as I had previewed in a recent post -- "LARP Help!" -- I just finished running that larp.
  • bandits and heroines and kidnapping
  • renaissance sort of costumes
  • almost all 7th graders but possibly some range on the ages (downwards)
  • lots of combat
  • in the woods somewhere
  • E. and her friend have made swords already for everyone (foam ones)
In addition, from later logistics, I knew we had to get done with dinner, the game, and cake in about two and a half hours. The short form is that it was great fun, and you can see pictures from it here:

Flickr Set

EDIT: cf. also Liz's report for details on the preparations and the puzzles.

The results were very chaotic, with lots of swordplay, lots of role-playing, and lots of fun. For a solid hour and a half, the woods rang with a lot of calls of "milady!" along with clashing arms.

Long report under the cutCollapse )

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March 18th, 2009

03:03 pm - LARPs at Potlatch 18
A few weeks ago, I was at Potlatch 18, a local science fiction convention -- that's primarily for written SF rather than other media. I had never been there before, but I knew some people who were organizing, and there is a lot of attendee overlap with WisCon that I've been going to for a few years.

Regarding RPGs, I ran two science fiction parlor LARPs at the con. Also, there was some RPG discussion in the panels since one of the two books of honor was Growing Up Weightless by the late John M. Ford -- who was also a role-player and role-playing author, and the book's protagonists were involved in a virtual reality role-playing game. I am tempted to revisit his Paranoia adventure, Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues, in some way with his literary themes in mind.

LARP #1: "Stagecoach"

This was a Firefly/Serenity LARP that I had written, and run at GenCon 2007. It was set on a ship operated by the Companion's Guild, a setting I had originally created for a tabletop one-shot game using Spirit of the Century. The scenario, though, took notes from the 1939 film starring John Wayne.

One of the fun parts of this was running for people who had never done larps or even role-played before. The cast was dancingsinging as Captain Granger (a Guild master and ship's commander), Jon as Major Sanchez (an Alliance officer), Francesca as Yong Lau (the Major's prisoner), vito_excalibur as Journeyman Shepis (second-in-command), Alan as Jamie Holloway (friend of Capt. Granger), Olga as C.J. McLaury (a Guild student), Amber as Corporal Hatfield (the ship's pilot), and Debbie as Dr. Collins (the ship's doctor).

It came off well, and dancingsinging even posted about it as "LARP for joy!" For my own writing, I have some design thoughts for how to improve it, but in general it works fine.

LARP #2: Garden Station 4

The first LARP went so well that most of the people who played got together for dinner the next day and we decided to play another LARP scenario. I pulled out one of the pre-written parlor LARP scenarios from Shifting Forest Storyworks, "Garden Station 4." I first played this with my friends back in 2005. It is about crews of two science ships whose nations (the UP and the Cerians) are in a cold war standoff trapped on an alien space station. The unique part of the scenario is the set of five different terminals which are located at different points in the space station, and how action flows between them.

We added a friend at dinner, Ian, who played the neutral party Sandy Applebaum. In addition, we had Alan as N. Mitterson (the UP leader) and Jon as J. Tantorian (the UP Journalist) -- while on the Cerian side we had Amber as Red3 Stanville (the leader), dancingsinging as Green4 Rockton (the computer specialist in drug withdrawal), and Olga as Grey5 Ellisville (the loyal guard).

Perhaps influenced by having a nice dinner together just before, the players in this run were more trusting and peaceful than most of the other runs I had seen. Still, it ended with a satisfying bang -- literally -- as everyone was killed by a grenade (sort of). Again, everyone had a good time.


This basically confirms my faith in the parlor larp format as an excellent introduction to larps and role-playing. I'd like to do some fine-tuning both of my Stagecoach scenario and how the mechanics are introduced, but I wouldn't want to deviate too much from a fun and successful instance.

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February 26th, 2009

05:40 pm - Indie Gaming of 2008
I haven't reported much on my indie gaming group. Starting up around August last year, we did a short campaign of Full Light, Full Steam followed by a short campaign of Sorcerer. This year we did a one-shot of 1001 Nights, and then started up on Mouse Guard.

I have not been documenting our games as well as I have some others, so I'll just give brief overviews of them.

Russians on Mars

Full Light, Full Steam is a steampunk space opera roleplaying game. It has two notable mechanics: thematic batteries and scrips. Thematic batteries are basically a way of taking penalties earlier in the session in order to gain bonuses later. Scrips are a way of structuring scenes, such that each player must reference one of the other players' thematic batteries for a scene to end (with certain exceptions).

Our campaign was set on a Russian warship, in various action around Mars. The Russians are not much detailed in the core book, and we were somewhat unfamiliar with Czarist Russia. Still, it made a nice change of pace from Victorian English stereotypes. I played a young noble-born officer who was in principle sympathetic to the people, but lacked any real knowledge of their issues. He was inspired by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but lacked any life experiences to give him perspective. The others played a mix of types: a marine officer / spy, a hotshot mechanic, and two more I forgot.

The action turned out rather over-the-top, involving things like ancient alien devices blowing up a whole French warship.

Sorcerers in Dubai

Our next campaign was Sorcerer, a 2001 RPG that centers on demon-summoning sorcerers, written by Ron Edwards. Our setting was the modern world, specifically modern-day Dubai. We figured it was an interesting way to focus on modernism, and we frequently featured the amazing new real construction projects there.

I played Vijay Sethi, a muslim immigrant from India working as a director of software security in Halliburton, which has a second headquarters in Dubai. I had a demonic set of keys that could open any lock, and be a universal remote. Albert played Paul Robicheaux, an ex-CIA agent and a member of the same coven as Vijay. Paul had an internal demon that lived in his blood that could dissolve things, among others. Peter played Farouz Al-Rashad, a handsome Iranian immigrant policeman, with a subtle fire demon that would manifest by him -- often at the end of the cigarette he was smoking. My stats were:

Vijay Sethi
Stamina 3 ; Willpower 5 ; Lore 2 ; Cover 5
Price: Arrogant
Demon: Kurthos, a set of keys

The nature of the game set us on fairly independent storylines. The extended adventure consisted of each of us resolving a player-defined Kicker defined independently for each PC, where a Kicker is a situation that demanded immediate action on the part of PC.

My Kicker was that I had just found out that there was a crucial flaw in my project, which made a difficult-to-close security hole for Halliburton and would end my career if exposed. Albert's Kicker was that Paul was being forcibly retired by the CIA. Peter's Kicker as Farouz was that his brother had become involved with the daughter of a dangerous gangster engaged to another man.

The NPCs included: Rafiq Al-Rashad (Farouz's brother, Nasha's lover); Jaffar Bin Yaz (Fiancee of Nasha who wants out of the engagement); Kalil Pervej Sajjad (crime boss); Nasha Sajjad (crime boss' daughter, in affair with Rafiq); Mohammed (an underling of Kalil, forced partner of Paul); Larry Winters (Paul's CIA contact); and Quentin Sinclair (local coven leader).

Our storylines ended up intersecting somewhat. After slipping away from the CIA temporarily, Paul was blackmailed into working for Kalil, father of the woman Nasha whom Farouz's brother was involved with. To get out of my situation, Vijay decided to accept that his career was going down the tubes, and attempted to sell the secret of Halliburton's security hole to Kalil with Paul's help. Still, much of our action was independent which contrasted a bunch from the usually-joint action of FL/FS.

And on...

That was basically it for 2008. I'll talk more about our 2009 games of A Thousand and One Nights and Mouse Guard later.

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November 13th, 2008

12:58 pm - Autumn Cons: End Game and AmberCon NorthWest
I just posted con reports on two recent conventions on my Convention Reports page, for the October End Game Minicon and AmberCon NorthWest.

End Game October 2008 Minicon Report

AmberCon NorthWest 2008 Report

I was originally going to GM two games at the October EndGame Minicon, but I had to cancel and instead only played in one game -- a run of Grey Ranks organized by Alvin Frewer. I had originally planned on running a straight Dogs in the Vineyard game and A Thousand and One Nights game with pregenerated characters inspired by Catherynne Valente's "Orphan's Tales" books.

AmberCon NorthWest was excellent as usual. Nicely organized by Simone Cooper, and with a host of excellent volunteers (including myself as a volunteer GM). I think attendance was about the same as previous years, and I saw a number of new faces -- but there is also space for expansion, I think.

Update: Check out Simone's photo album of ACNW08.

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October 20th, 2008

02:10 pm - The First Session of "All Shall Love Me and Despair"
I also played the first session of "All Shall Love Me and Despair" -- my tabletop RPG campaign set in an alternate storyline of the Lord of the Rings. We had done a character creation session two weeks ago, and this time started into the action. We were missing one players, so the game was cut a bit short.

The situation is that the PCs were in two groups that were both arriving at Lothlórien at the same time. Daniel and David are playing two dwarves from Erebor -- Rombur son of Bombur and Nurri son of Nuin, respectively. Rombur has been learning lost secrets of dwarven lore from hidden chambers beneath the Lonely Mountain, aided by the illiterate scount Nurri. The two are leading a force of troops that Erebor has sent to aid the fight against Mordor, at Gimli's request.

Dennis and Mark are playing a Dunedain Man and an Elf from Gondor -- Duilin of House Hurin and Nestrameldir of Edhellond, respectively. Duilin is a Ranger also descended of Isildur, while Nestrameldir is a Sindarin Elf famed for his healing skills. They have been sent north along with Prince Imrahil to consult with Galadriel concerning the progress of the war. They have conquered the standing army, but have been unable to crack the fortress city of Minas Morgul.

In this first session, the two groups met up, and then dealt with an attack of Mordor upon the dwarven troops as they crossed the Anduin. They then went together to meet with the elves, and were taken into the forest city of Caras Galadhon to meet Galadriel. Their souls were tested with a psychic temptation, and then Galadriel took Nestrameldir aside to help cure someone. The man was unconscious within the pure white sheets of the Elven bed, and his flesh was translucent. She introduced him by the proper name Tindomul, but explained later that he was also known as the Lord of the Nazgûl.

The characters were shocked at this, and we ended the session there.

EDIT: Oops! Forgot the web link. Here's some preliminary campaign material.

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02:06 pm - Midsummer Mischief Report
The Wodehouse LARP went off this weekend, which as I predicted was a blast. We had cast all but 2 of the 18 parts (with several people signing up at the last minute), but there were 3 cancellations so we ended up missing 5 of the 18. It worked quite well, though, with a last-minute shuffling of parts -- thanks to Bill for taking on a more central role at the last minute. The one part that we really missed was the butler Beach.

It definitely needed two game-masters, because there were a lot of consultations with the GM. We had an open space of three rooms representing the public space of Blandings Castle, plus the porch outside where we had the in-game garden and lake area. Players would go into the kitchen to consult with the GM to go into private areas: people's rooms, the pig sties, the museum and the library. These were represented by a set of envelopes containing slips of paper for various items.

I think we did a fair job as GMs. The one big slip-up turned out to be rather amusing. Robert, playing Lord Emsworth, went to check on his pig early on, but accidentally put the pig card into his pocket. For the next two hours, he and everyone else (including us GMs) thought that the pig had been stolen and were trying to find out who had done it. I think there were plenty of events to go on. The one point I think was disappointing to some players was that their romance plots were never activated -- possibly due to not being seeded by missing characters.

I didn't follow the romance plots too closely, but it was a very amusing mechanic that fit P.G. Wodehouse rather well. Unmarried female characters had instructions that their romance plot would be activated by a certain key word or topic. Compatible men were marked by a symbol on their name tag (a bell, asterisk, etc.). If a compatible man mentioned a certain topic in conversation, the woman would open a sealed slip of paper and hand the matching slip of paper to the man in question. So a drone could suddenly find himself in love with and/or engaged to a woman seemingly randomly -- which is quite in keeping with the Wodehouse tradition.

I think a nice thing about the plots in general was that everything was of similar importance. All the plots were of personal importance to the characters, but none were objectively central. People's reputations were endangered, but there was never any life-or-death issues at stake. No one was biffed through a few people were frisked.

Karen has some pictures of the event on her Flickr account,

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December 6th, 2007

01:42 am - D&D for Kids at Thanksgiving
So on my Thanksgiving trip to home, I ran an AD&D game for my three nephews and son. My nephew Nat (age 8) had written an email to me earlier to pointedly ask me to run a D&D game for them. Later, his father explained that a friend of Nat and his brother had gotten them interested in D&D. The dad had played it in high school back in the early 80s, and still had his first-edition AD&D books that he lent to the kids. For myself, I packed up my 2004 D&D Basic Game and my pile of D&D miniatures for the trip. I also brought along my 1983 Talisman boardgame as something similar but easier for the kids.

The kids are Nat (8) and his brother Zack (6), their cousin Truman (7), and their other cousin and my son Milo (7). Also, Truman's little sister Lillian would peek in on games a bit.

Over vacation time in their grandparents house, we played a bit of Talisman at first, and then a full Talisman game (in two sessions) later. It has a number of role-playing-like elements like the character sheet, gold, and experience. It's very easy to get started with, and has clear rules that the younger players understood easily.

Which D&D?

Nat had originally waffled on whether he wanted to play with the rules from the original AD&D1 books that he had seen, or the rules in my fancy new 3.5-era Basic Set. During the break, he said he wanted the original AD&D, so I borrowed his dad's first-edition PH, DMG, and MM along with DM's Screen. However, I still used the current-edition dungeon tiles and prepainted minis.

The Action

We played in three sessions. A morning session of character generation, a fight with kobolds in the evening, and then exploring and taking on the evil necromancer and his very young black dragon the next morning.

Most of the action was all mechanics and fighting. I found that any sort of description that didn't have something down on the table for it lost their interest extremely quickly. That's partly personality and group dynamic rather than strictly age. For example, I know that Milo can hold attention longer, but it is a struggle.

Players and Characters

We did regular AD&D character generation -- best 3 of 4d6, arranged to the stats you like. House rules were you had max hit points for first level, and started with average gold. It took nearly two hours to explain everything and walk through all the character creation, especially equipment. However, I had basically planned on this.

The players and their characters were:
  • Nat, age 8, played "Sir Aralon (Lord of Fear)" -- a lawful good human fighter
  • Zack, age 6, played "Sir Hittr" -- a lawful good human magic user
  • Truman, age 7, played "Sir Dragonair" -- a neutral good dwarf fighter
  • Milo, age 7, played "Eodred" -- a neutral good elven magic user
  • Keary (Nat and Zack's dad) played "Ralf" -- a lawful good human cleric
Names were a troublesome point for many, including Milo who demanded I suggest a good elven name for him.

How Did It Go?

The kids loved it and were extremely eager. My parents called me "heroic" for keeping the kids all focused and entertained for that long. For the kids, the highlight was certainly their feeling of hard-won victory defeating the necromancer and her very young black dragon. It was an edge of the seat victory, and I made all my rolls out in the open declaring what number I needed. Everything was by the book, though I was prepared to fudge with the dragon's attacks by not saying which rolls were its 1d4 claws and which was its 3d6 bite.

There wasn't any depth to the game -- much less so than my Kids Games at ConQuest SF 2006. The kids were younger and had more trouble focusing. The real struggle was keeping them from arguing with each other too much, and focused on the game. The miniatures and illustrated dungeon tiles were invaluable for this. The one token role-playing interaction was that there was a captured bugbear whom I convinced Nat to not kill immediately because he agreed to help them, though he did run away when things got tough. The rest was all pretty much tactical.

Overall, it went pretty much the way I expected, except that their attention disappeared even more quickly than I thought for verbal, non-combat action.

P.S. For reference, I've added a new LJ tag for my posts covering role-playing with younger children, "kids".

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