Sunday, February 28, 2016

Myf and Idris

I've been spending so much time talking about storytelling lately that, along with contemplation of the rebirth of Changeling, that I'm in the mood to tell you another story, this time about faeries. So for your enjoyment, I wish to share with you now a story I wrote back in 2006. So here it is: the story of Myf and Idris.

In a small village in Wales named Porthgain, there lived a fisherman named Idris. He would go down every day to the shore and climb into his boat, push off into the sea, and cast his net. He worked hard to catch his fish, and at the end of each day, he rowed back to shore with his bounty. He set aside enough fish to feed him for the next day and took the rest to market, where he sold them for just enough to afford some bread and milk, the rent on his small cottage, and the materials to repair his boat and nets.

One day, he went to his boat and saw a small lagomorph nibbling on a flower growing from the pebbles beside his craft. As he approached, the creature, a brown hare, turned to peer unafraid at him, and did not run. Idris began to think that he would be able to catch the hare and cook it for dinner, to give him something to eat besides fish. He took a net and crept towards the hare, but just as he got close enough to toss the net, the hare darted under a nearby rock. Idris gazed at the animal, feeling somewhat lugubrious.

He was then surprised to hear the hare say, 'I hope you're proud of yourself, that's all.'

Idris was speechless for a few moments, then said, 'I'm sorry. I did not know that you were anything other than a normal hare.'

The animal gazed out from under his rock and spoke once more. 'And why should that matter? Would I not want to live unharmed by a hungry human if I were only a normal hare?'

Idris thought about this for a moment, and finally replied, 'You have a point. But do not we also have a right to live, unharried by the constant pangs of hunger?'

'You also have a point,' was the hare's reply. 'Then for your wisdom, I shall grant you a boon. Within the week, you will find your one true love.'

Idris was a little disturbed by this, and protested, 'It is all I can do to support myself now. I do not need to support another in my small home.'

And the hare stated, 'Then I shall have to make sure that your one true love is not a burden to you, but a blessing.' And before the fisherman could say another word, the hare fled from his hiding hole and was gone.

It was four days later, when Idris had quite forgotten about his encounter with the hare, that he was rowing to shore after a day of fishing, and he spied a form sitting upon an eyot near the water's edge. He was a little concerned, so he set out towards the islet. Before he arrived, however, he heard a beautiful and sonorous voice singing the loveliest song he had ever heard. He stopped his rowing to listen to the sweet timbre of the song, the glorious dulcet melody and the words that sounded hauntingly familiar, although they were in a language he had never heard.

Finally, the song stopped, and he steered his craft towards the rock once more. When he arrived, he found a beautiful mermaid sitting combing her hair. 'Good day to you, sir,' she greeted him.

'Good day to you as well, my lady. May I ask about the song you were just singing? It was the finest sound that ever I have heard.'

'It was a lullaby that my mother used to sing to me.'

The two fell to talking, and they were so pleased with each other's company that they agreed to meet again the following day at sunset. And so began a long relation between the man and the fae woman, wherein they would meet every dusk and talk. Idris was so enchanted with her beauty and her gentle nature that it never occurred to him to tell anyone of his new friend.

After they had been meeting this way for a few months, Idris confided in his friend that he loved her with all his heart, madly, desperately, and eternally. The mermaid, whose name was Myf, confessed that she had grown quite fond of him as well. They kissed for the first time on that night, clasped in each others' arms, his rough shirt scratchy against her bare chest, her lips cold against his, but neither noticed the discomfort, so deeply were they in love with one another.

The met this same way for weeks afterwards, always parting most sorrowfully from one another. Finally, one night, Idris said to his love that he wanted to be with her forever, never parting. Myf pointed out that this was not possible, as she was a creature of the sea, and he was bound forever to the land. And for days after, they repeated this scene. Idris saying he wanted to be with her forever, and Myf saying that it was impossible.

One dark night, some weeks later, after Myf had bid her love farewell and splashed away into the waves, Idris remained on the eyot, staring off into the murky water. Suddenly he was overcome with such a powerful longing that he could not stop himself from diving into the ocean after his love. He swam and he swam, trying desperately to reach his fleeing paramour before his breath failed.

The last thing he remembered was her hand clasping his, her fingers entwined in his own, before the world went dark.

They say he still haunts the shore to this day, always seeking to meet up again with his faerie lover. But she does not come back to that place.

I will leave you with that for this week. Until next week,

Game on!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A close look at combat and other systems

I was thinking this morning about the combat systems in roleplaying games. With the exception of Fiasco (and possibly Amber Diceless Roleplaying which I've never been able to try), the mechanics of any game system focus very heavily on combat.

Rules systems vary from incredibly complex and detailed, with exacting descriptions of any foreseeable permutations described (like those in Dungeons and Dragons or GURPS) to vague and intuitive (like Little Fears). But no matter the system, it is always the most detailed part of the rulebook (unless you count the magic system, but given how many of the spells described in most games are usually most applicable in combat situations, the magic section may as well count as part of the combat system).

This makes sense, given the way that roleplaying games grew out of miniatures war games. It's only reasonable that the first RPGs were, in essence, a system for emulating combat between individual characters.

But with the expansion of gaming, and the appeal that the hobby has for Storyteller and Method Actor player types, it is surprising that other aspects of the game haven't received more attention. Fiasco, as mentioned above, is the only roleplaying game that doesn't have a combat system at all. If any sort of fighting occurs in that game (which actually happens very seldom), it is described narratively, with any injuries or death detailed as needed to fit the story.

Compare this to other events that may occur in a game. We'll look at just one example: Shadowing. In Changeling: the Dreaming, the rules for shadowing take up a little less than half a page. Conversely, there are eleven pages devoted to violence (not counting the charts and tables). To follow someone without being seen, you simply roll once per turn to see if you continue to know where your quarry is. The target can roll as well to see if he becomes aware of the pursuit, and these rolls can cancel each other out. There's a paragraph on working in pairs to make it easier to follow someone without being noticed. Otherwise, that's all there is to it.

Combat, on the other hand, involves exact rolls to whittle away a target's hit points, with things like armour and dodging and parrying to complicate the matters.

Wouldn't it be interesting if those levels of detail were reversed? I'd like to see a game system in which combat is a single roll by each combatant with the loser falling unconscious, and shadowing described as a lengthy system of rolls and counter-rolls with complications like evasive travelling, bonuses to rolls based on whether the characters are in an environment that shows footprints, and a running total of 'shadowing points' that must be exhausted before you can catch the subject or evade the pursuers.

Ok, maybe that's a bit of a silly system to use for shadowing. But I could easily see something like that working for, say, seduction. The seducer has a number of 'patience points,' and the seducee has 'inhibition points.' Each player describes what 'manoeuvre' they're going to attempt ('I want to use the "Witty Repartee" manoeuvre this turn!'), and that determines what they roll ('Ok, the "Witty Repartee" manoeuvre requires a Charisma + Subterfuge roll). The other player then tries to resist that manoeuvre ('I roll my Wits + Streetwise to resist the effects of his clever banter'), and if unsuccessful, loses some of the points ('I failed my roll. I lose three points of Inhibition. I've only got two points left! Another amusing pick-up line like that, and I'll be making love to his character! I better try to blow him off quickly before I lose my resolve! I'll try a "Devastating Insult" manoeuvre on him to get him to leave me alone.') Then the other player can try to exhaust the first player's points ('I got five successes on the "Devastating Insult."' 'I roll my Willpower to resist the effects of that insult. I only got two successes, so I lose three Patience Points. I still have seven points left, so I should be good to keep going. I will try again, this time using the "Flattery" manoeuvre, and hope it does more than two points...')

The more I think about this system, the more I want to see it happen. What do you think, loyal readers? How would you like to see a system with social or mental tasks treated with the same level of scrutiny and exactitude as most combat systems? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and remember to check back next week! Until then,

Game on!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Board Game Review: Gloom

It's time for another board game review! Aren't you excited? Of course you are! This week, we're going to look at the wonderful game Gloom. Ok, yes, it's not a board game, it's a card game. Hush.

A table with several Gloom cards on it, the hands of some of the players visible as they reach for the various cards.

We can't have a game review without the ratings, can we? First, the new rating chart:


Strategy: 2
Randomness: 4
Complexity: 2
Humour: Implicit, Inherent
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Gameplay: 1 hour

First things first: Gloom is appropriately named. It is meant to be played by people who can enjoy black comedy. If morbid humour isn't your thing, you will want to steer clear of this game. It is, after all, a game in which players make people sad and then kill them. This is definitely not light entertainment.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, however, then read on.

In Gloom, players are given a family. There is usually (though not always) a patriarch, a matriarch, two children or other 'underlings,' and a bizarre character. Each member is represented by a card, which is placed in front of the player on the table, face up. The players are then dealt a hand of cards, the majority of which are 'modifier' cards. These include things like 'Was pursued by poodles' or 'grew old without grace.' Players want to play these cards on their family members to lower their self esteem. The cards are printed on transparent plastic, so the self-esteem modifiers of a card can be seen through any cards placed on top of them. This allows you to play multiple cards on the same character; there are three places on each card (along the left side of that card) that a modifier can appear, so some cards will cover up the modifier on a card underneath it if a modifier is printed in the same spot as on the other card. If you look at the Grogar character card, the one that looks like a teddy bear, in the photo at the top of this post (click on it for a larger version if you need to), you can see that there are three red dots that say '-10' on the left side. However, only the bottommost of those spots is on the card on top (the 'Was Burdened by Boils' card); the two other -10 spots are on cards underneath that one.

Some of these cards have positive modifiers (like the 'Was Wondrously Well Wed' card, which has a '0' spot and a '+20' spot); these are to be played on your opponents' characters to increase their self esteem, thus thwarting that player's plans.

You have two actions on a turn, however, on your second action, you are not allowed to play an Untimely Death card. These cards are how you kill your characters. Such cards include things like 'Was Baked Into a Pie.' You cannot play an Untimely Death card on a character unless that character has a negative self esteem total; this makes it harder to kill off your characters, as other players will always have a chance to play positive modifier cards on you before you get to play that Untimely Death. Once a character dies, however, no further cards can be played on him or her (unless you have a special Event card that allows such an action, or brings the character back to life).

Game play continues in this manner until one player has no more living characters. At that time, the total self-esteem value of all dead characters is calculated. The player with the lowest total self-esteem value of all his dead characters is declared the winner.

This sounds like a very simple game, and really, it is. Until you take into consideration the actual point of the game; this is one of those games that is not meant to be played by competitive players who only care about trying to win. It's about telling stories.

See, you don't want to just play a card on your turn. You have to weave a narrative about how that card comes to pass. For example, you shouldn't simply play the 'Was Disgraced at a Dance' card on your character Lord Wellington-Smythe. You should make a story out of it. Maybe you could say: The Lord Wellington-Smythe, having been cast out of the halls of the social elite [referencing the 'Was Shunned By Society' card played on the character two rounds ago] as a result of his affair with a former prostitute [referring to the 'Found Love on the Lake' card played by another player three rounds prior] went to drown his sorrows and found himself feeling much better [alluding to the 'Was Diverted by Drink' card played last turn]. However, he had to drink so many shots of absinthe to achieve that improved self-image, that he lost all sense of decorum and moderation. He found himself wandering the streets of London, until he passed a building from which he heard the most merry sounds. He stumbled through the doorway to find himself in a large and magnificent ballroom, where a throng was enjoying a rousing waltz. Filled with the joy of seeing people so gloriously enjoying themselves, and his head still hazy from an absinthe-induced fog, he took it upon himself to join in the festivities. He cut in unceremoniously on the nearest couple, pawed clumsily at his unwilling dance partner, crashed about the room in a most ungainly manner, overturned several tables, ruining countless priceless outfits with spilt food and drink, and injuring several people (himself included) in the process. After he was summarily ejected into the dirty streets, he fell unconscious in an alleyway. Upon waking the next morning, he managed to fight off the hangover enough to trudge home, where he was horrified to see his likeness in the newspaper with an article describing his drunken antics at the royal waltz society. So it was that the Lord Wellington-Smythe was disgraced at a dance.' It is at this point, at the very climax of the story, that the card is actually placed on the character.

This is the appeal of Gloom for me, and for many who enjoy the game. It doesn't matter who wins; what matters is that the players tell epic stories of woe and weal in the process of playing.

Of course, not everyone enjoys storytelling games of this nature. If you are such a player, then Gloom is not for you. If you do like telling stories, though, then you really must give Gloom a try.

And with that, I will bid you adieu. Don't forget to watch for my articles over at pinkfae.com, and until next week,

Game on!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Changeling Returns to Life

I just learned that there was a Kickstarter campaign that closed a couple of months ago for a new 20th Anniversary edition of Changeling: the Dreaming.

This upsets me a little bit. I really wish I had known about it. I would have pledged. I really hope that there's nothing available to the backers that won't also be available to non-backers at some point... if there are any books that I can't get, I will be seriously angry.

As anyone who's read much of this blog is aware, I am very fond of Changeling. I think I've done a pretty good job of explaining why I love it so much.

So this is very exciting to me. I look forward to finding out how much they've changed; what sort of changes they will be, and most importantly, what's been happening since 2004 when the Time of Judgement supplement ended the original World of Darkness. Twelve years is a long time...

I've looked at what they have posted on the Kickstarter page. They have some impressive ideas so far, such as including the kith from the French and German Changeling sourcebooks, and completing the Kithbook series (there was a fan-made book, written and illustrated by several fans who were as upset at I was that the boggans never got an official release).

Needless to say, I am very excited about this.

Now I just need to find a group to play with. Who's up for it? Come play Changeling with me! You won't regret it. Until I see you again in the Dreaming,

Game on!