RPG-a-Day, Week 1, Days 5-7

5. Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?
Man, I pay so little attention to art, I’m a terrible person to ask. Mouseguard is pretty good, with its putting warrior mice on the box cover. Super hero games often do well too, when they show an array of heroes that you can create. (I’m thinking of the cover to Infinite Heroes, mostly.)

Though, looking at that, an actual battle would probably be truer to the game. 5e did a good job with fantasy combat on the covers, which is truth in advertising.

6. You can game every day for a week. Describe what you do.
I was contemplating exactly this situation when my wife scheduled a solo trip home. I was going to have 2 weeks of evenings. My first thought was to schedule a 4-6 episode game and meet every other day or so with like-minded people eager to get in a game before the school year began (etc.)

Three games had been on my mind prior to thinking about filling the time, so the game debates followed along directly.

Option 1 was Wrath of the Autarch. I really liked the idea of well tuned Fate based game, one that wouldn’t dissolve into a pile of invocations and victory without tension. I also really liked the broad theme (a fantasy kingdom simulator, with an empire nearby distracted to start, but once they get their act together…)

The second option was Blue Rose, maybe in a West March style game. I’d enjoyed reading about Aldis and its history, and the sense of Valedemar with the serial numbers filed off was strong enough that my bedtime reading immediately pivoted to an overdue reread.

But the system is new to me–heck, it’s new altogether, so there’s no backlog of easy stolen scenarios and materials. It’s also a more directed setting–you’re agents of the crown–so “like West March” wouldn’t really be a static map that anyone who showed up could explore. It’d be more AL/PFS style “whoever shows up is on the mission”… actually, it’d be VERY like that, basically a serialized campaign. Which would be an immense amount of prep and adjustment; packing it into a week would mean that I’d be devoted to it totally [something like wake up & begin prep, guests come over after work, we eat dinner then adventure for the evening]. Hmm… that’d be awesome, but an immense amount of work, particularly given the traditional GM/player division in workload.

As much as I love facilitating a good game, I don’t know if a week of game-work would actually be a vacation for me.

The third option was Apocalypse World: 2e. I have a setting in mind, daydreamed a bit, but without character’s to respond to, that’s about the end of the prep. Still, presuming an excited group, I could definitely see getting together each night and seeing how they change the world. Hopefully the prep burden would be much less than the Blue Rose idea above, but I suspect that nightly games would shortchange my subconsciousness’s ability to weave coherence out of apparently the “random” action of the heroes. Fronts would likely be more direct, instead of weird and inspired, on that quick a time table.

7. What was your most impactful RPG session?
There are a number of them; for me as a GM, it was probably the feedback to the first session I ran for group of players I met in college. (Mike, Pat, and Rob.) For our rotating GMs D&D game, I’d created a bog-standard D&D adventure hook. As players, they gamely accepted it, and we had a pretty straight-forward adventure. It was also obvious that they were going on the adventure because it’s what was on offer–but that it didn’t fit their characters’ motivations half as well as the quests and experiences to date. That was a lightbulb moment… what, you have to think about the characters and WHY they’d risk life and limb?

An excellent teaching moment, particularly as they didn’t shut down the game to shit on my failure to engage their characters.

RPGaDay 2017, Questions 1-4

4. Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?
I don’t track accurately, but… I think it’s the five or six sessions of Diaspora that I’ve run, despite scheduling difficulties. Actually, strike that—I’ve been running Hoard of the Dragon Queen weekly for the last couple of months for encounters—that must have leapt to first place, particularly when you add in other “pressed into service” sessions. Mouseguard was the game that I got to play a PC in the most over last year. Last August I was finishing up a great Dogs in the Vineyard game.

3. Where do you find out about new RPGs?
Kickstarter’s “a friend of yours backed” is surprisingly influential—it’s often enough to get me to glance at something. Similarly, the kickstarter newsletter is persuasive. Beyond that, it’s people in the game store talking about things that excite them, or my rare forays onto G+.

2. What is an RPG you would like to see published?
I’m not following much in development, and am not getting many games to the table right now. My backlog of want to play/run is getting pretty extensive…

1. What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?
Fall of Magic was right up my alley; I’d love to get in another few sessions. Similarly, Masks and Epyllion were both great games as one shots, with a clear vision of what additional goodness would come from deeper play.

#RPGaday #RPGaDay2017

The Soft Room by Karen Heuler

This is the story of twin sisters, Meg and Abby. The relationship between the two feels authentic–the struggle between siblings, the definition of themselves in one another.

Abby is the eldest twin, a natural leader who’s often upstaged by her sister. Meg steals the attention because of a lack–she doesn’t feel pain.

The story gets going in suburbia, with Abby and Meg running around the neighborhood and nearby undeveloped lot with friends. Abby’s more cautious than most, having to keep an eye out for Meg’s wounds–after all, without feeling them, she could be grievously injured and not notice it. Meg’s bold–without pain, she can steamroll ahead directly and take risks others blanch at.

The characters are more than the keeper/immune to pain descriptor–I really enjoyed the story from both points of view. The divergence in personality and its roots make sense.

The break, where the book enters Part II, feels like a huge break, even though it only skips ahead a year or two.

In the end, I loved the characters and the development. The titled “soft room” only emerges in the final dozen or so pages, but really underscores the transformation that Meg undergoes.

The Inner City by Karen Heuler

It’s a collection of interesting, slightly surreal stories, often with great twists. The stories tend toward the dark–the weirdness is more magical realism than urban fantasy.

I enjoyed it, but the stories didn’t make a deep impression. Part of that was probably a defensive crouch, worried about the dark turn the story was going to take.

Reread: The Last Herald Mage trilogy and Oathbreakers

Reading Blue Rose made me crave my favorite romantic fantasy series, The Last Herald Mage. The Last Herald Mage was my introduction to Lackey and Valdemar, sparking introspection in my early 20s, and remaining a touchstone ever after.

I’ve reread the Last Herald Mage so often that I remember all of the broad strokes–but the fine details are always sharp and surprising when I encounter them again.

Tarma and Kethry are great, though the first book’s fits and starts were pretty obvious on this read through. I’ll pop into the Arrows trilogy and see how Talia’s doing next.

Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson

Three parallel stories of downtrodden women in three eras. Our first (and to me, primary) story is set on Haiti in the era of slavery. The second story is an actress struggling to survive in pre-revolution France, while the third is of a slave in Roman occupied Egypt.

All three are well told; there’s a great deal of immediacy. Childbirth matters a lot to all three… and the odd spirit framing device between them.

It’s a heavy book, but very well told. Your empathy gets quite a workout.

Blue Rose: AGE

Well written, I really like the system and the broad strokes setting. I was immediately reminded of Lackey’s tales; there’s a lot of world that’s Valedemar with the serial numbers filed off.

It’s the AGE system; 3d6+Stat, doubles result in stunt points (so about 1 in 4 checks). It keeps the three class structure from d20 Blue Rose; experts, warriors, and adepts. The choices are all strong and interesting–though, like Star Wars–who doesn’t want to wield magic?

Conviction, destiny, and fate are all interesting–not overwhelmingly dominant, but cool ways to accent a character and tempt them. Similarly, Shadow and corruption are more solid that Lackey’s novels… but encourages a game-able problem solving.

It’s joined my active pool of games that I’m interested in moving forward with; AW:2e and Wrath of the Autarch are the other two.

Fountain of Age by Nancy Kress

A great collection of short stories–but then, I love Nancy Kress’s writing, so it’s not surprising that I enjoyed these too.

The Erdmann Nexus is a quirky story about a big threshold event, but what makes it so interesting are the main characters. It’s centered on an old folks home, with a wide variety of ability levels and togetherness–but interesting, rich, lived characters. It’s the longest; maybe a novelette?

The Kindness of Strangers is mostly about a group of people, trapped, trying to survive. The inexorable backdrop is interesting, as is the population reduction throughline.

By Fools Like Me is a quirky post-apocalyptic tale, mostly about a grandmother and granddaughter. It’s simpler, with a scathing look at superstitions.

First Rites was an interesting tale of sacrifice and genetic engineering, mostly told from the POV of a shunned woman who is returning to back country China as the book starts, and her American cousin–and the child they share responsibility for. It’s interestingly told, with a final twist that feels… unearned, but that’s not really right. Maybe it just went too fantastic.

End Game is an interesting meditation on focus and genius… and the role of serendipity and stray thought. It doesn’t end well for the world…

Images of Anna is about a woman who runs a photography studio, who meets a woman whose photographs never show her. There’s fascination and strangeness as she sets out to discover what caused the weird photo manipulation…

Laws of Survival is about scrabbling life in the domes, and an odd out… plus the mystery of unraveling who the aliens are and what they’re aiming for.

Safeguard is an interesting story about creating a sealed world… and what happens when that breaks up. There’s good reason to keep the kids sealed away…

Fountain of Age is longer, a winding and complicated and fun tale. It too starts in an old folks home, but Max isn’t a normal hero. He has a twisty past, and knew an important woman well… both of which we visit in extensive flashbacks and a roaming tale. It’s a very interesting future; life extension is tricky!

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

A cool, cynical tale of first contact with the complexity of modern politics and international relations.

I really liked the characters, both human and alien. Our POV character is a minor middle aged geneticist, suddenly and surprisingly catapulted to the big time–though at terrible cost.

Her relationships with her three children are well done; even the naer-do-well kid has interactions and relations that feel authentic from a trying, striving but failing, effort.

Plus, the twist at the end is awesome and deserved.