Free RPG Day Redux

Oh, by the way, when I posted about the LotFP game I ran last Sunday for Free RPG Day, I neglected to post about the rest of the event, which happened at Dice Latte in Seoul. After all, I didn’t just run a game: I also played in one.

Specifically, for the 11:00am session, I got a chance to try out Kids on Bikes, which was… well, I guess I’d say it is like a rules-lite version of Tales from the Loop, with the following differences:

  • none of the particularized setting of Simon Stalenhag’s world: there is no set lore or “world” for this game, so it’s more open-ended 
  • simple character generation, mostly based on a different die for for each character stat, giving you a higher chance of success, though (as with my high-grit kid who should have been able to keep watch all night long for the G-men searching for our camp but fell asleep after a couple of hours), it doesn’t guarantee success
  • much less in the way of explicit rules for the psychology of running a child character (whatever emotional vulnerability and family issues come into the game come in because they’re roleplayed into the game, and they can just as easily be skipped)
  • the capacity to play child, teen, and adult characters, so, a bit more like Stranger Things or Lost Boys and a bit less like E.T.: The Extraterrestrial or Stand By Me: this game has more room for grandma, or the friendly teacher, or the punky older sibling, or the concerned parent, to take part in adventures, where that’s not really a design feature of Tales From the Loop 

I guess the comparisons to the Fria Ligan game are maybe unfair, but I bet they’re common. After all, both games are drinking from the same nostalgic well, and are designed to tell stories inspired by the same (cinematic/literary) genre, right down to them both being set in the 1980s. There are other differences, though: Tales from the Loop has a unique Swedish angle (though, of course, it includes a setting for U.S. play), whereas Kids on Bikes is very, very American. Also, I think the latter is more apt to be used for pick-up-ad-play games, with no prep: I have trouble seeing a GM run Tales from the Loop with zero prep at any point. Bikes doesn’t seem to take quite as seriously as Loop the weird/strange conceits of its setting, and seems to be focused on flexibility of tone, mood, and narrative structure.  

As for how it went: it was definitely fun. It struck me as really, really improvisatory for the GM: one of the people who played in my game, John Campbell, ran our session, and impressed me with his ability to weave a story basically off a couple of ideas in the back of the book, plus the rumors we were prompted to share at the beginning of the game. 

(My rumor was about a creepy, weird old guy named Old Man Smith who lived in the woods and had been ancient even in 1911, when he started living there. I didn’t think John would be able to integrate Smith into the story, but then, suddenly, he did: Smith’s cabin actually ended up being the site of the big, climactic showdown, in our game.)

Our scenario was basically a bunch of kids (linked by various antagonisms and friendships) and a new-in-town park ranger stumbling upon a feral child claiming her “parents” needed help, getting caught in a secret government manhunt for the child, and struggling to get her back to those parents, who turn out to be sasquatch-like aliens who crashed on Earth and, while trying to rebuild their ship from fragments and pieces over the last decade, raised her in the woods. But really, the story was as much about how character interplay: how the rich girl whose dad owned the mall felt guilty about leaving another kid in the woods (he came back, well, “different”) and despised the nerdy girl that the local teen-cynic boy (my character) was somehow friends with. Three hours was maybe a bit short for the amount of connective tissue needed to link together all our rumors into a single story (and John did end up fast-forwarding the story a couple of times, in the places where hiking montages would have gone in the cinematic version of such a tale), but it felt like a good length of session for the game, nonetheless. 

I missed Kids on Bikes on Kickstarter: I was on the fence about it then, and though I didn’t rush out and add it to my to-get-immediately list, it did go on my long-list of maybe-sometime games. It’s still on the list, after having had a chance to play it: the system seems simple enough that one could probably run it just using the Quickstart and have fun, and while I think running a few sessions of it would probably help me stretch mental muscles that get less of a workout in the sorts of games I usually play these days, I suspect that’s probably true of a lot of games. That said, I think it’d be especially fun to run this game with a group of kids as players: they’d probably have a ball running sulky teenagers and goofy adults, as well as running kids who’re authentically smarter than we adults usually give them credit for. 

Besides that, I also picked up a few other nice Free RPG Day books. I won’t inflict a photo of them on you, since I’ve shelved them all, but you can see the titles/covers here. I’m especially interested in the Cthulhu Confidential/Fall of Delta Green scenario book, since I have a copy of Cthulhu Confidential (the one-on-one Gumshoe-system game) and had been hoping to run it for my wife at some point. It looks unlikely that that’s going to happen this summer, but someday… someday. 

Legacy: Life Among the Ruins (2nd Edition) And what do you know, but the day after the event, the that I backed on Kickstarter showed up at our place in all its lovely hardback glory, along with the boxed set of alternate settings and a couple of other nice add-ons.

I’ll be too busy to look at much for the next few weeks, though. More about why next time… if I feel like posting about it, that is. I might not until afterward, or at all. Still processing things.   

Free RPG Day/Playtest: Eldritch Cock Meets the Wizard’s Tower

Though I’ve got more serious news I’m still processing, this post isn’t about that. It’s game stuff. 

Sunday was a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone kind of a day. I was signed up to run the Lamentations of the Flame Princess table at the Free RPG Day event at Dice Latte in Seoul, so I figured I might as well give that adventure I’ve been revising—the one I discussed drafting here—one more quick playtest. The adventure involve’s a wizard’s tower, which was a good fit for this year’s LotFP Free RPG book, Eldritch Cock—a book of demented, cool spells using the same spellcasting rules introduced in last year’s book (Vaginas Are Magic). I guess it’s worth noting that I helped crowdfund the book, and was happy to finally get a look at it. 

It was a great time, and the players seemed to have a lot of fun as well as to deal with the slings and arrows of miscasting with aplomb, while navigating a crazy adventure scenario.  Continue reading

At Last, A Use for Scapple

I’m not sure how I ended up with a license for Scapple: I think it was thrown in with my Scrivener license, though it may have been included in some bundle of Mac software. What I am sure of, though, is that I didn’t find a use for it until recently.

That’s on me, of course: I probably could have used it while plotting out the novel I redrafted last year, but it never really occurred to me. However, that’s changed with a project I just finished working on, a freelance RPG-writing project. It’s one of those deals where there’s a clue to Mystery A in locations C and F, but to access that clue you need to solve the puzzle in locale N and accessing locale N means uncovering the clue in locale Q, and so on. Scapple really helped me:

For reasons of space and sanity-preservation, I had to cut out a certain amount of the moving parts and linkety-links between X and Y and Q and M and R and Z unless W as well as C. Most of the hard work actually involved figureout out what and where to pare down, and I still ended up way over the originally suggested wordcount. Paring down, concentrating the clues, and minimizing the red herrings and “subplot” stuff can only achieve so much, after all.

(“Subplot? Did he say subplot?” Why yes, I did, but the adventure isn’t exactly plotty. I guess what I really mean is minor moving parts and interactive effects of the scenario that are linked to minor elements in the background story that shaped the scenario as it is, if that makes sense? There is a “plot” in the background—or, rather, a tragic and horrible story about how being a decent human being can get you destroyed if you’re not careful—but it emerges as something revealed by discoveries: its “plot” in the sense an archaeologist uncovers a story by digging up bone fragments and shards of pottery, not as in a railroady adventure plot. The adventure itself is pure locale, a tower filled with bells and whistles designed to let players do what they want and deal with the consequences. But figuring out how to ring the bells and blow the whistles also inadvertently reveals bits and pieces of how the bells and whistles and graffiti and blood and bone fragmnts and pottery all got there in the first place.) 

On the less-bright side, the new version of Scrivener is no better at handling tables than the previous version, and in  some ways it’s worse. When I exported to work, it inserted all kinds of weird tab space markers, and bullet-points where I’d put none in the text, so I had to waste a bunch of time just cleaning up the text after exporting it. That’s too bad, since I really like Scrivener for drafting stuff: being able to move around bits and pieces of text willy-nilly was a real life-saver when it came to reorganizing the text a few times. I guess I’ll just have to adopt some other kind of formatting cue to make things easier: adding bullet points is, after all, easier than removing them, discovering Word has removed more than I asked it to, and then having to re-add them. 

(Seriously, though, Scrivener ought to be better at this than it currently is. Maybe I need to try export to .rtf as an intermediate step, or something?) 

As for the adventure, it’s kind of a mashup of things that have interested me lately: I’ve been reading M.R. James, and “The Ash-Tree” is an incredible “witch-tree” story; I’ve been thinking about Guy de Maupassant’s way with monsters in “Le Horla,” too; I recently reread Terry Dowling’s  “One Thing About the Night” (in Ellen Datlow’s The Dark: New Ghost Stories, though it later appeared in Dowling’s own collection Basic Black: Stories of Appropriate Fear), and have been thinking a lot about traditional magic systems and how they disconnect from how magic works in a lot of RPGs, after reading (this past summer) Frances A. Yates’ wonderful book The Art of Memory and Jim Baker’s The Cunning Man’s Handbook: The Practice of English Folk Magic, 1550-1900 was in the mix a little, though not much of that survived. 

I won’t spoil it by saying anything more particular than that, but I will say I found Scapple pretty useful for coordinating those moving parts and interlocking bits: complex network of relationships are much easier to sort out when you have some kind of color-coded visualization to work with. I may not do another adventure where the moving parts are this complexly interwoven for a while, but I can still see the appeal of this kind of organizational tool, even if I already found some functions missing that I’d have preferred to have available. But hey, it was also my first time using it. Maybe I’ll discover more as I go.