Joshua

I've spent most of my life thinking and worrying about games but not nearly enough time actually playing. That is changing now. In real life I'm a legal aid lawyer, though I prefer the term 'public defender', in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Jan 172014
 

Last night at the Board Room, five scene members, Alissa, Carter, Joshua, Nat and Sebastian gathered for character creation.  Our Sorcerer game is set in modern day Halifax, on the wet and grimy streets we trudge along every day.  As I mentioned in my email invitation the only definitive difference between our fantasy Halifax and our real life Halifax is that in the fantasy one, our characters know that demons exist and can be summoned by sorcery.

See the campaign page for some of the details about the setting and characters.

For all of us it was the first time to start a Sorcerer game.  Relying on my copy of The Annotated Sorcerer we found the character creation process went very smoothly.  We were initially afraid that a session of pure character creation would be tedious and pledged to stop after an hour and “play an actual game”.  But by the time the hour rolled by we all realized we were playing and having fun and completely committed.  Ron Edwards is quite specific, in the rules text, that character creation must be done in the group.  I definitely see why.  It’s a form of procedural creativity, not unlike games like The Quiet Year, Kingdom and Microscope which we’ve all enjoyed here.  It’s best performed with an audience.  One choice we made however was to defer demon creation.  I felt compared to the fun of discussing our cover, price, kicker…  even stat descriptions, statting up an actual demon was more ‘pervy’ (to use some ancient jargon denoting ‘many points of contact  with the rules”).  Instead I’ve asked the players to give me their ideal demon and let me pour over the rules and offer them a first draft by email.  At the next session I hope we can finalize the details and jump into play.

 

 Posted by at 9:55 pm
Jan 102014
 

The scene reunited for the first time in 2014 at the Boardroom last night:  Alissa, Owen, Sam, Nat, and Joshua.  At first Sam had us all participate in an experiment – testing a phrase building ritual which he might perhaps work into his next great story game project.  We don’t know. Only time will tell.  I think consensus was that it was entertaining on its own, though we’d like to see it in an actual game.

Having done our bit for science, we settled in for a fine session of Joe Mcdaldno’s The Quiet Year. This is a game about telling the story of a community and recording it’s history on a collaborative map.  I really like this kind of game.  Talking with others at the end I think I might have liked it the most. Let me rehash the story as best as I can recal from my own POV (others please add, amend and correct as needed)>

We decided our community was located in a little hidden valley surrounded by mountains.  Several mountain streams, some crashing through steep gorges, came together to form a river that flowed through the valley and then disappeared into an abandoned strip mine.  Our community was centred around a forested area  where two largest streams finally came together. We struggled at the beginning with a scarcity of meat, fresh water, electricity and industry but were blessed with an abundance of faith.  Faith was never completely defined but it seemed to manifest itself throughout the game most often in very practical exercises of devotion.  Often in the form of carefully tended ornamental gardens.  These gardens were said to help “purify” the land though as a player I remained skeptical about whether this was ever anything more than a symbolic form of purification.  Certainly no obvious physical effects were ever revealed. The abundance of faith early seemed to originate with the community elders who frequently required assistance to travel to a monastery partway up a mountain, and across some deadly gorges, in order to worship or something.  Later it became apparent that worship consisted mainly of gardening.

The major drama in the spring and summer revolved around our relations with another community who camped around the abandoned strip mine mentioned above. Things got off to a bad start when we decided to dam the river upstream of them and got worse when the discovered us salvaging (stealing) a large turbine from an area they considered their territory.  This lead to a series of small skirmishes, the development of a militia, the desecration of  some sort of peace garden, and only really ended with the assassination of their leaders by the charismatic and religiously fervent Alice from our community.

The biggest tension within the community (again from my POV as a player) was between those who rejected all spirituality and trappings of religions and saw faith, as well as all religious observance as hindrance to the advancement of industry and order; against those who sought to preserve the old ways and believed that doing so preserved the land as well as the essential dignity of all humans.

By winter the communities industrial projects were moving along at a frightening pace.  Electricity was readily available.  Meat and tomatoes were being produced on an industrial scale. The remaining members of the mining community were being coerced into a life of servitude, providing an indentured class of labourers to serve our further schemes.  On the other hand faith if not actually in scarcity was certainly under threat. The elders had been all but abandoned to starvation in the mountains, (there were even reports of cannibalism).  Religion, when it was still practised, took on a radical new look.  (See for example the large phallic symbol erected in the middle of the map. )  I cannot help but wonder if there weren’t some of us who greeted the Frost Shepherds with relief as bringing about an end to such a cold and utilitarian society.

My thoughts about the game.  The rules strongly discourage table talk or any form of collaboration or discussion outside the formal “hold a discussion” action.  I feel we were rather strident with this guideline and as such the game was more jovial and included plenty of entertaining banter.  I am still curious however to see how the game feels if the silence is more faithfully observed. The greatest fun for me came out of the use of contempt tokens.  We 20 pennies for this purpose and for a good portion of the game.. and right until the end, they were ALL in use.  The contempt tokens as we used them, and this might not be strictly correct according to Joe’s rules, became an engine for ‘character development’ in a game without characters.  Let me explain (all of course from my own point of view, others might have had a different experience).  I started taking contempt tokens when the community started religious projects, or offered pacifist solutions to problems with our rivals.  I’d even take one when I heard these sentiments expressed during discussions.  This led to me having quite an accumulation by the end of Summer. The other unexpected consequence was that I became more and more committed to a warlike and ultra-pragmatic almost fascist view of the community.  Without ever identifiying with a particular character I started to feel like I was role-playing a vague faction or even almost a personified ideology.  I also started to see the other players in a similar light.  Based on their contributions, discussion comments and especially projects I came to identify each other player with a world view and vision for the community.  Owen was probably the most opposite, being I felt an advocate for increased spirituality and reconciliation both with our environment and outside communities. Sam seemed in alignment with me with regard to pushing for industrialization but we were opposed on almost all matters of social policy.  I was definitely in Alissa’s camp on military matters but we didn’t always agree.   Two things make these differences interesting to me:  (1) the fact that we can identify these different agendas even though there was never a venue for declaring them specifically and no way to directly challenge or oppose each other. (2) the fact that they arose not out of my own biases or even out a a conscious decision to play as a certain character.  Perhaps “start a discussion” is one of the most important elements in the game.   Although it appears to have no visible effect on the game (unlike “discover something new” or “start a project”), it is the one action that contains some role play.  During a discussion and whenever we take a contempt token, we reinforce the existence of a certain collection of beliefs, intentions, and desires.  These are all elements of character but without a physical form. If we played a more strictly orthodox version of the game with zero table talk I hypothesize that these disembodied ‘characters’ would become even more real and defined.

All in all, I found this one of the most INTERESTING games I’d played in a while.

 

 Posted by at 2:50 pm
Dec 202013
 

Sam, Geoffrey, Jennifer and Joshua formed the scene of the boardroom tonight. I was hosting and was almost but not completely prepared to run the quiet year. So after some discussion we settled on playing the final girl.

We let fate choose the premise and ended up with something about spelunking and man eating monsters. Jennifer had the brilliant idea that the excavation construction for a big new library opened up some ancient tunnels. It doesn’t characters from various walks of life all found themselves there for different reasons. My memory is poor but let me think. there was a police officer trying to service summons on homeless person. There was Nina a late on a city employee moon lighting by running tours in the newly discovered tunnels. Screen. A pair of bickering academics and a Polish exchange students were the first victims. Their senseless deaths serve the purpose of revealing to the audience that hundreds of years ago Polish immigrants were imprisoned and starved to death here. Very soon it became apparent that they’re hungry ghosts prowled the catacombs. In some large storm sewers which somehow connected to the same system a service to enter patient sought to confront phobias by subjecting themselves to the  labyrinth. Let me see there was also bank robber believe the stuff that money was hidden in the depths, are young man seeking friendship and a few others I think.

Early on the killer seem to manifest itself as chops and automatic mechanical nemesis. Later it became more spiritual and organic. Ultimately the patient, by the name of Laszlo seem to become possessed by a cannibalistic spirit. As he survive more encounters with the supernatural he became more and more attuned to the dungeon. Ultimately in my interpretation he internalized its murderous essence and became the thing itself.

It was a terrific play experience. Sam and I were the only two who have played this particular game before. But Jennifer and Geoffrey we’re clearly very comfortable with the style and form of role play. It was delightful to see the scene  expand ever so slightly with their arrival. I’m very excited about what marvelous stories we will all create an experience together the new year.

 Posted by at 12:36 am
Dec 122013
 

murderghostsBy 7:45 only Carter and I had arrived at the Board Room on the bitterly cold night of 12/12.  So to fight off the shivers we decided to delve into some violent psychological horror courtesy of Vincent Baker.  Very soon after Sebastian and Elizabeth arrived and “checked in” with the Scene before finding a slightly warmer corner of the Board Room in which to play The Duke.

I declared myself MC and Carter was a willing player.  I took a few minutes to try and come up with a theme for my murderous ghosts and Carter quickly scanned the 2 short pages of rules which are all you need to start playing. Carter’s character Ken was a young confident captain of a hockey team – possibly living in Boston… or similar city on the eastern sea board.  At times of distress he thought longingly of his team mates and before ultimately meeting his end reflected that his death here would curtail his dreams of one day holding the Stanley cup.  His urban spelunking  it turned out lead him into the bowels of an abandoned ship-building operation.  All the clues he came across indicated that violent labour unrest had lead to tragedy.  Once the ghosts of unionized shipbuilders awoke they attempted to dismember him, at first he seemed to have been mistaken only for a scab, but as he listened to them play out their repetitive drama he began to suspect something even more sinister had occurred here.  There was talk of a “lock in” … starvation… cannibalism.  Fleeing the picketers he found himself briefly underwater but came up inside the remains of a partially built warship.  His explorations brought him face to face with the spectre of a corporate executive who admitted to the lock in and further revealed that due to shady sections of the government procurement it made economic sense to have the ship scuttled and sunk in the harbour, (with a full work crew on board).

Things didn’t end there, but they got considerably worse for poor Ken.

A quiet night by HIGS standards but I was pleased with the quality of gaming we got into.  As MC I probably should have pushed harder and finished the game sooner.  I didn’t fudge anything but made a couple of choices that let Carter’s character live longer.  The odds are definitely against the player and, much like Doomed Pilgrim, the point of the game is to confront and play out character death with style.

 Posted by at 11:07 pm
Dec 072013
 

“The Sundered Land is a series of 5 single-page games plus 2 supplements set in the Sword & Sorcery ruins of the future.”

 

I’m a warrior seeking peace and an end to bloodshed. I’m on
pilgrimage to the Temple to No Gods in the distant City of Gulls. My pilgrimage
has brought me to the Jungle of Bones, inhabited by followers of a grim torturer-devil. My goal is to pass safely through and continue my pilgrimage.

You, my friends online, play the world. Your goal is to see me to my doom, instead of safely on my way. You’re allowed only to directly answer my direct questions, though, so you might not be able to do it.

The rules:

  1. Only answer my questions.
  2. If you don’t already know the answer, make something up.
  3. Keep your answers short.
  4. If your answer’s disruptive, I’m allowed to delete it.
  5. Otherwise, I have to go with the first answer somebody gives. I’ll +1 it.
  6. You may “subscribe” to this thread if you like. Please use the sentence ‘no gods watch over you’ to do so.”

(Play will begin in the comments to this post.  Please stand by for my first question)

 Posted by at 6:17 pm
Dec 062013
 

Also on December 5th,  Nat, Sam and Kieva played a game of Fiasco using the Time Warp playset.  This sees the players choosing from a variety of historical locations, lost treasures, and future possibilities as they adopt the roles of “time agents” who (nominally) fight against chronological wrongdoing throughout the continuum.  Being human though, they’re also plagued by human needs like revenge, greed, and romance.

Our story took an . . . unusual turn.  Nat ended up being a mad scientist, Sam ended up being a sociopathic carefree android, and Kieva was protecting a future, deradicalized Adolf Hitler from Nat and Sam’s depredations.  The ensuing fiasco was a politically insensitive space-time comic opera involving chronologically out of order fights in a Bohemian Berlin apartment, fortresses of solitude constructed from asteroids at the end of the universe, androids with a penchant for tea and scrabble, and bomb so powerful it trapped Nat’s character in a pocket-dimension with nothing but void and a scrabble board.

Not the best game of Fiasco I’ve ever played, but definitely interesting.  The off-the-rails turn our game took highlights the importance of “The Score”, the section at the beginning of each playset that sets the tone and expectations for the coming narrative.  Don’t forget to print it along with the Relationships, Needs, Objects and Locations!

 Posted by at 10:58 am
Dec 042013
 

lb-logo Sadly it didn’t occur to me to take a picture of the Scene’s first foray into public house gaming.  Altogether eight people showed up.  Five of us (Alissa, Carter, John, Hugh, and Joshua) played Lady Blackbird while Nat, Sam, and Kieva played Fiasco at a nearby table,  (see separate post).

My first comment about the venue is that I sure enjoyed my delicious pints of oatmeal stout and I’m pretty sure they deserve a lot of the credit for me having the confidence to go ahead and GM this game.  On the other hand the pub’s background noise and low lighting made things difficult. I think full enjoyment of a game like LB really requires every player to listen attentively to every other players stories and contributions.  The ambience definitely made this more difficult.    Also the game itself is printed in a lovely but dainty and fine font which in low light made for a lot of squinting and straining.

At the bottom of this post is a link to another review of the game.  I don’t think we achieved that level of ‘awesomeness’ but I am very pleased with the story we created so far.   The character’s first attempt to escape the brig started well with Lady Blackbird using wind magic to create an impressive distraction, while Kale confidently picked the shabby iron lock.  “Childs play!” she said… but just as the last tumbler falls into place, but before she can swing the door open an officer entered with 4 new marines and ordered Cyrus to come with them.  Naomi and Kale took this opportunity to attempt to rush the guards and Cyrus slipped out and made his way out into the rest of the ship. As punishment, the officer in charge summoned ‘Bubba’ to enter the cell and deliver an educational beating on the unruly prisoners. This didn’t end well for Bubba. Kale uses her magic to make the lights go out and the remaining marines panic, allowing Naomi to disarm them in the dark.  The characters are able to slip out into the ship in search of Cyrus and ultimately their own spaceship during the  brief moments before a general alarm is raised.

Cyrus meanwhile had found his way to the senior brig officers quarters in hopes of recovering everyone’s personal effects.  This results in an encounter with the officer, Gary Slaughter… surviving brother of Shawn Slaughter a former comrade in arms of Cyrus Vance from his days in the imperial wars of ’36.  Obviously Gary blames Cyrus for Shawn’s death to the ensuing battle cannot be avoided.   This doesn’t end well for Gary.  The noise of their struggle allows Kale and company to home in on Cyrus and the group is reunited.  During the moments while they regroup and consider their next move, Cyrus thinks back to the horrific last days of the aforementioned war.  The reflection the mortality of friends and the senselessness of war apparently give him a sober appreciation for the stakes he still plays with and a new determination to get his crew and his passengers, especially the lovely Lady Blackbird, out of this dire situation.

A death defying sprint through the Hand of Sorrow allows them to reach the Owl just as it is about to be jettisoned into space like 80 tons of space trash.  The Imperials realize too late that instead of cutting of the heroes escape they’ve just made it that much easier.  Fighters are scrambled and poor Snargle has to pilot his goblin ass off to evade their guns.  Luckily he does just that and manages to line up some great shots allowing Cyrus, at the guns to take out three fighters.  Kale, in the meantime coaxes some once in a life time, do-or die performance and speed out the Owl ‘s doughty engine and steam drives. at one point she put them into a perilous ‘overboil’ no doubt risking catastrophic consequences.  But said risk is averted and the Owl loses the Hand of Sorrow in a rogue gas cloud on the fringes of the lower depths… oh wait that’s no gas cloud!  In fact it was a massive gout of ink from a ravenous sky squid.

… to be continued…

Here’s a positive review from Wired magazine: “Lady Blackbird is simply awesome

 Posted by at 2:19 pm
Nov 262013
 

[Gentlemen Thieves] Aristocratic Scallywags of Leisure…
Gentlemen Thieves

By no means can you call it a play test when the game has been published and launched  to great acclaim at HalCon 2013.  None-the-less it was the first opportunity for most of us at this table to play the latest edition of Sam Fraser’s excellent story-telling game.  The new cards, the art and  refined rules all helped produce an exciting full game.   We created some hilarious stories and it was a very close game with a 3 way tie for first place.

 

[Exodus]

You can call it “play testing” however when we delved into Jake’s proto-type “Exodus” a game about space exploration and colonization where every player tries to settle their own colonists on safe hospitable planets while nuking their neighbours.  Although the game cards are roughly made index cards covered in Jakes cryptic handwriting his playing pieces are all custom designed and 3D printed plastic spaceships with colour coded units for colonists and aliens.   We all had a great time with this game as well and speaking for myself at least look forward to playing again especially if Jake invests more in the production.

HIGS playing "Exodus" prototype by Jake at teh Boardroom.

HIGS playing “Exodus” prototype by Jake at teh Boardroom.

 Posted by at 3:52 pm
Nov 132013
 

playset_cover_los_angeles_1936 On Thursday, November 14th, a Fiasco went down at Games People Play.  We told tales of greed, ambition, and murder most foul!

About the Game

Fiasco is billed as a game where you play characters with “big ambitions and poor impulse control”.  It’s played in two phases: in the first, players collectively choose the relationships and story elements that are going to fuel the subsequent Fiasco; in the second, players invent characters and narrate their inevitable downwards spiral.

The elements in the game are drawn from Playsets, which provide a setting and a cornucopia of heady elements to populate your game with.  They define who your characters are, what they’ll be doing, the things they’re fighting over, where they’re doing it all, etc.

Once the setup is over, the game becomes very narrativist, with only a few rules to restrict how the story goes.

What Went Down

Our game happened at Games People Play downtown, which mostly hosts Magic: The Gathering events but also welcomes other ludographic pursuits (they have Open Gaming on Thursdays, check them out!).  Josh and Nat both brought playsets, with settings ranging from D&D Satire to 1970s Communist Germany.  In the end, we settled on Los Angeles 1936, and a cast of desperate ne’er do wells sprang off the pages.

Newcomer Alissa appeared on the scene for the first time (and did great job playing Vincent Ross, a barman caught between a rock and drug cartel).  Josh played Lonnie Viola, a criminal lawyer with ambitions of movie stardom, Nat played the Reverend John Hooker, the affluent shepherd to a flock “devout” Hollywood society players, and Sam adopted Richard Smalls, a film producer fallen on hard times.

Lonnie’s trying to help Vincent get rid of a vial of pure heroin (a weapon in an attempted murder).  Richard is blackmailing the Reverend, who’s sleeping with the producer’s estranged wife.  And that’s before we started narrating anything.

Fiasco’s a long-time favourite on the scene, and we knew we’d have a good time.  It’s not got a lot of “crunch” in the rules, which can be a turn off, and it’s emphatically not a story about competent people.  As long as you know what you’re getting into, it’s almost always a good time.  If it sounds like something you’d like to try, watch for our next game and come join us!

Poor suckers...

Poor suckers…

 

 Posted by at 4:05 pm
Nov 112013
 

nat-fate-halcon

From the Scene’s point of view Hal-con was a success. Although sadly a session of Dogs in the Vineyard was cancelled due to health reasons, all would-be dogs were awarded higs cards containing implicit invitations to visit this site and learn more about the Indie Gaming Scene.  If you’ve come to this site and are reading this paragraph after receiving such a card know that you are a welcome and respected member of the Halifax Indie Scene.

Nat was running a Fate Accelerated one-off adventure (similar to the one we play tested at Games People Play a few weeks ago).  It was a hit again. Most players were new to FATE and it was fun to watch the rules affect the way we all played. It drove us to create colour in order to gain mechanical advantage.  The use of fortune always resulted in creating new fictional content which itself triggered future bonuses.  Several cycles of this taught us all to ‘invest’ in fictional ephemera colour in order to draw on advantages later.  Though I see FATE as an clearly gamist oriented system – it does make us tell stories tactically.

If you see yourself in the photo above please comment below.

 

 

 Posted by at 2:55 am