Friday, September 18, 2009

Dread Zombie follow-up

After talking with my players and getting feedback, I realized the truth in the statement "you are your own harshest critic."

I thought I didn't do a great job giving everyone spotlight time. They seemed to disagree. Most felt like they got enough time to shine and have their character do stuff.

I thought I "shot down" player ideas. They disagreed. Example: a player attempted to leave by the back door. I said that "They" parked a truck in front of it so you can't get out. I wanted to give her something, though, for her effort, rather than just "No you can't go that way" so I threw a clue in the form of overhearing some plans. Afterwards I felt like the clue was too small/lame. She disagreed. "As a player, I didn't expect to get out." And she felt the clue wasn't lame.

I thought the plot seemed slapdash and incoherent. They liked it and were able to follow it. Though they agreed that at times it felt like they were going in circles.

So... overall I'm not going to improve my game's grade (which I gave a B+), but I am going to feel happier about it. It was fun. And that, after all, is the most important part.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

That was ... interesting

Just got home from the Zombie game of Dread I mentioned in the previous post. Now I'm trying to figure out if it was a wreck or a success.

First, the most important question: Did I have fun? Yes. I did. Most of the time.
Second, did the players have fun? Yes. I think so.

- Half-n-half doesn't work.
I wanted to run an improvised game, but was too nervous to fully commit to said improv game, so I prepared notes and clues and scenes and stuff. But since I didn't want to prepare too much, I only half-prepared. Important lesson: half way between improvised and prepared is a dangerously non-committal game which confuses both players and GMs.

- Silliness.
I wanted to run a more serious game with players more invested in their characters' fates and personal stories. I would say this only succeed at about 33%. Only about a third of the time did I feel like I go to make good use of interesting character quirks, draw out intercharacter relationships, or create clues or scenes based on the characters. I will in no way place blame for this on my players.

I gave each player a few scraps of paper and they occasionally passed me notes, and I passed them notes. In a couple of instances players passed me "hey this would be cool for my character" notes or took me aside to tell me them secretly. Actually, these worked out pretty well. The problem was that I didn't feel like I, as GM, did enough to encourage this and to make sure every player got an opportunity. At least one player got left out of the spotlight the whole game. Sorry, Allie. That was my bad.

- Ran out of ideas
Towards the end I really started to run out of ideas and felt like I was making the players pull for things that were silly. I also felt like my default "I can't think of anything" solution was "hey look, a zombie!" It felt too cheezy after a while.

- The players (thankfully) acquiesced to my story premise: you are locked in the building with the zombies and a "clean up crew" is on the way.

- We all seemed to enjoy stealing classic zombie tropes
Someone was already bitten. Someone had been part of top-secret experiments before. There was the classic stereotypical lab. We had some great ripped-from-the-slasher-flicks characters. It was lots of fun.

- The End!
Even though a split party proved a challenge for me, it ended well. One group escaped by helicopter (first character death of the game was a Heroic Sacrifice to take a bullet for the chopper pilot). The other group descended into the secret basement labs, then the sewers.

In the sewers the climactic moment was a series of inter-player conflicts (bid a number of pulls, highest bidder wins, but has to make those pulls) in which one character shot at another (missed), then was attacked by a third character (and died), while the fourth character tried to steal the stolen data and escape (and got shot by the dying first player)!

I think I'm going to chalk this one in the "Win" column. I had fun. I'm pretty sure my players had fun. There were some rough spots, but we pulled through. It was silly, but in a campy zombie-flick sort of way. And the mistrust between characters, the paranoia, was palpable and resulted in great end-story conflicts.

If I had to give it a letter grade? B+. Solid effort, clearly there's something there. With a little refinement, a better hold on the reigns, and a clear decision between full improv or full preprepared, this could easily be a solid A game.

Tower Corp: a game of Dread

Dread has to be one of my favorite RPGs. Ever. It does survival horror PERFECTLY. But that's for another post.

Right now I have about 30 minutes until I'm going to run a game of Dread and I am nervous as hell! I'm not normally a nervous GM for RPGs. But this time I am trying two very dangerous things:

1. I'm trying to keep the game largely improvised. That means planning less. That means a scary feeling of no control.
2. I'm running a Zombie plot. Zombie plots tend to be fairly open-ended. And the last time I ran a zombie plot the game felt like a failure (I didn't have fun and from my point of view the players looked bored).

I am terrified and excited and eager for and dreading this game.

Here's hoping it works.

The basic premise:
The players are all employees of Tower Corp. After working late one night they are about to leave when suddenly a strange man (zombie) attacks one of them. The well-meaning security guard insists that everyone stay put until an ambulance and the police arrive. But instead of the police/ambulance, a team of pseudo-CDC types arrives and locks down the building.

They say that a CDC Incident Evaluation Team is on the way, but that's a lie: it's really a "clean up" team who are there to eliminate any witnesses or traces of infection.... with extreme prejudice.

Meanwhile, the players will have to deal with zombies and each other. Hopefully they'll want to investigate the cause/source of the zombies and find it in their workplace.

Dear lord I hope my players are willing to take as many chances as I feel like I'm taking with this.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Vacation Photo

Here's a stereogram photo I took while in Glacier National Park. I sometimes stare at it when I need a brief moment of relaxation. That was, I think, one of the most beautiful scenes I saw in the park.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Happy Birthday HPL

It's been a while since I posted, and the 109th celebration of the birth of my favorite author, HP Lovecraft, is as good a reason to write as any I can think of.

Rather than expound on how Lovecraft has introduced me to many other authors (some because he influenced them, others because they influenced him), I thought I would post two (semi-self-promoting) links.

The first is a link to a radio drama version of "The Statement of Randolph Carter" in which I played the title character. I highly recommend listening to the other episodes of The Cthulhu podcast, since they are all excellent, and provide great historical insight as well as good stories.

The Statement of Randolph Carter
the Cthulhu podcast

The second link is to a "choose your own adventure" style story I wrote for Pelgrane Press. My main inspiration for the format comes from the solo adventure books from Chaosium like "Alone against the Wendigo." Please please please tell the folks at Pelgrane Press if you like the story. And if you think the story could use work: please tell me! I would love to get feedback on my writing.

The Invitation, a pick a path adventure for Trail of Cthulhu

Looking forward to hearing what you thought of my contributions to the mass of Lovecraftian content out there.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Dream, night of July 5

I worked at a very high class business and lived in the same skyscraper. One night when I returned to my loft, there were people waiting for me that I did not recognize. They had a strange aura about them, but it wasn't until they showed me something that I realized they were not of our world.

The next scene that I remember is standing on a beach just outside of the city, looking back at the skyline. There, floating above the city, were the aliens' spaceships: titanic hovering boxes of varying sizes. Some were long and narrow, others wide and tall. In all they gave the impression of a surreal cloudscape.

When I turned back to the beach, I saw one of the alien craft had landed in the sand. Rather than the smooth sides that I expected, the surface was covered by numerous small doors. Overcome by curiosity I began to open the doors and saw that each door opened on a deep, narrow compartment set into the cube. The depth of each chamber should have caused them to overlap and intersect, but the alien physics were such that they seemed to ignore this rule of physical space.

A crowd gathered and some began to explore the cube as well. No one could understand the purpose of the cube or the chambers built into it. The mystery grew as reports came in from around the world that other, similar, cubes had appeared.

Near me a man exclaimed excitedly that he had determined the purpose of the chambers and the cube. Each chamber was meant as a storage locker. The bottom of the locker was a sliding platform. I was struck by the similarity to the body lockers found in morgues.

The world descended into tumultuous debate. Many people wanted to cooperate with the unspoken alien demands: to volunteer themselves for storage in these cubes. Others wanted to carefully select the sample of humanity that would enter the cube. Still others weren't convinced that the lockers were meant for living inhabitants, that instead inanimate artifacts of humanity should be included or substituted.

In the end I remember either volunteering or being selected. But I don't remember if I went into one of the chambers or what happened thereafter.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Behind? I don't mind

I'm definitely feeling some pressure to keep pace to succeed at Script Frenzy. I'm at 16 pages as I sit down to write tonight. If I'm to stay on my self-appointed pace of 4 pages/day, I need to cram four in tonight. Doable.

I'm a little anxious, but really enjoying this challenge. Much more than NaNoWriMo. In fact, after this, I may try to adapt another story into an audio drama... and then try to record it!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Spreading the Love(craft)

A coworker who I thought was pretty "normal" (ie. not interested in nerdy things like discussions of how to survive the zombie apocalypse) recently revealed that she is, indeed, a bit nerdy. In fact, she did this by commenting on my copy of the Zombie Survival Guide that waits on my desk in case of emergency, and starting up a conversation about how to survive the zombie apocalypse.

A couple days ago she asked if I knew the name of that one author... she'd heard him recommended as a good horror writer, but couldn't remember the name. He wrote like weird stories or something. Like Cthulhu or something like that?


So, I just finished typing up an email and sending it off to her so she can dabble in HPL. Hopefully I suggested some good ones to cut her teeth on and not get turned off by Howie's occasionally archaic writing.

Here's the list I sent:
My Favorites (in no particular order)
Pickman's Model - nice quick short story, super creepy, and the ending is great
The Rats in the Walls - man moves into his family's ancestral estate, discovers rats in the walls and ...
The Statement of Randolph Carter - This is a good one, too. I also did an audio drama version of it with some internet friends, but you have to find that on your own if you want to embarrass me by listening to it ;-)
The Cats of Ulthar - be nice to cats ... or else!
Herbert West: Reanimator - HPL's spoof of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (which he did not think very highly of). There's also a super super cheesy 1980's movie adaptation of this story, but it's not that great.

Canonical works - these are ones true devotees and Lovecraft scholars insist are the best examples of his work.
The Call of Cthulhu - considered by many to be the epitomy of Lovecraft's work. It's a good story, but not my absolute favorite
Dagon - quick story, has a great ending that always gives me chills
Nyarlathotep - very bizarre. Like many stories, based off of Lovecraft's dreams
The Shadow Over Innsmouth - Longer story, but pretty good
The Dunwich Horror - don't tell the Lovecraft people I haven't read this one yet!
At the Mountains of Madness - a novella and kind of a long read. It's a great antarctic horror story full of mystery, exploration, and bizarre horror. I'd only recommend this one if you read

It's exciting to be able to share my favorite author with someone.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Session 2

Mostly thoughts about GMing an improv game and the nature of The Armitage Files as such.

To summarize Kyle's input, I'm running the game both too "sandboxy" and at the same time not "sandboxy" enough. Basically, I need to either give the players a lot more leeway, and run with what they do, or I need to more clearly define the boundaries of the plotline.

How to do that?

Bold and __Underline__ and Highlight the major clues and important scenes.

Jamie talking to Dr. Clever at the circus - Dr. Clever didn't have information about the topic Jamie was asking about, but he does have other sinister secrets. But I was too wishy-washy through the interaction.

Interrogation of Olaf Olson - there had been fairly strong build-up to this encounter, but the information offered didn't satisfy. Not in a "oh I guess he's not the guy" sort of lack of satisfaction, but more like "The information we did and didn't get, didn't live up to the build." Olaf was supposed to point to the Circus, but I dropped that clue in small type amidst a long list of non-information, dead ends, and little clues. Without the bold highlight, the Circus didn't seem that important.

Something the Armitage Files is missing: Advice on running an improvised campaign or scenario.

Armitage Files does offer a scenario spine worksheet, but doesn't develop that thoroughly enough for Keepers not experienced with running improv or freestyle-like games. I think The Armitage Files would do well to include an article along the lines of The Three Clue Rule.

I really think that I'm starting to learn that I need to have a solid story idea in mind in order to feel satisfied when running a game. Perhaps that's just my inexperience with improvised gaming. Although...

I think what I did after Session 1, I should have done before Session 1. I think, instead of making cards for every entry, I should have made cards for the entries that I wanted to be important, with notes about the important clue elements. That way, if something wasn't important to the story, I could just gloss over it, and in the meantime, the important stuff would be well prepared, and that would serve to boldify, underline, and highlight the relevant clues.

It would seem that it takes MORE work to prepare an improvised game than a pre-written one. I'd have to try running another improv game or two in order to find out for sure. We'll see...

The lesson from this session:

Identify the Major Clues ahead of time, and when they are encountered, put them in BOLD BRASH TEXT. Minor clues, red herrings, and dead ends, should be in regular text or at least clearly defined as alternative plot-lines not necessarily leading to the Grand Conclusion.

But the most important question...Did I have fun?

Yes. Lots.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Armitage Files - Playtesting Session 1

I think this session went very well. I had a lot of fun, and my players did too. We went in and out of humor, but when the in-game goings-on got intense or suspenseful, the mood was appropriate.

Generalities out of the way, here's some details on how I felt about things:
1. I felt less prepared than I would have liked. This is partly due to the nature of how I am going to run the campaign: improvised. I have not run a lot of fully improvised games before (one - as a play-by-post). I was not sure how to prepare, and so I decided on reading and rereading the MANY entries for people, places, and things in the campaign material.
1.a. I made awesome notecards (see below) by typing up very short notes about some of the entries (the ones most likely to be encountered in the first session) and attaching them to old Call of Cthulhu:CCG cards.

1.b. I think those worked out really well, but for the rest of the cards I may try to add more info and leave room for adding notes during play.

2. The material. I feel like there is a lot going on in the first two documents. There are some leads mentioned in passing in the documents that my players picked up on that are not covered in the corresponding document keys (Document 1 examples: the Hornets, the Red Box). This contributed to my sense of under preparation, since I hadn't readied that material.
2.a. I used Olaf Olson's sinister mode. Wasn't sure how to deal with him at the military base. I think I may have mishandled that. Redo? I would have said the military had no record of him, since it hadn't happened yet, and tried to hint later that he wanted to join the military to better/redeem himself?

3. Future plotting. I'm a little nervous about keeping all the details and plot-lines straight. I have audio from the game to review, so that will help. Though I'm a little nervous about maintaining a clear progression.

4. This should have been #1. LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY WHEN THEY TELL YOU TO HAND OUT THE DOCUMENTS AHEAD OF TIME!!! This ate up a TON of time and dragged everything down in terms of pacing. Either send it ahead of time (Note to Simon: include with purchase of game .pdf handouts for the documents) or bring multiple copies to the game (Note to Simon: layout the documents so there are not two documents on the same page. ie. use page breaks).

5. The material is excellent, and I can definitely see myself running the same material through a completely different lens and getting another wonderful story. I hope I get the opportunity to!!

Notes added during/after listening to game audio.

Document 1 - The players all felt that the document was very rambling and incoherent (it is! it's supposed to be). But they felt that it was very difficult to weed out the useful/relevant information. I suspect that this problem would be alleviated or minimized by giving the players the documents ahead of time, thus giving them more time to absorb and filter.