Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Games: February

Cover of "Cold Print"Cover of Cold Print

I took UnSpeakable, the HP Lovecraft supplement for InSpectres, for a test drive with my Tuesday night group. The results for the first part of the adventure have been spectacular. As a group, we've worked together to create a mood and I've gradually been putting the characters under more and more pressure. I'm quite proud of the sense of unease I've helped create, and of my description of the abomination that Jenni's character discovered in the bedroom.

The adventure situation was inspired by a Ramsay Campbell short story from Cold Print, called - I think - Voices on the Beach. Each of the characters had a relationship with a writer, Micah Brody, who lived in a beach house on the east coast of America and had recently written them a series of disturbing messages before disappearing. Into that mix, I threw a possibly racist sheriff (Micah and his brother, portrayed by one of the players, were African-American) and some non-Euclidean geometry. Based off the players succeeding in their investigation rolls, it became clear that an invasion from another universe was underway - with the beachhead being peoples' dreams.

UnSpeakable has a great narrative device built into its rules: the game can't end until one player's character has gone permanently insane. This encourages the person who's running the game (in this case, me) to really throw details and events into the story that unnerve, dismay and (ultimately) unleash madness into the universe. I took about a session and a half to get really comfortable with this but it was extremely late at night by the time we reached a point where the players were being confronted by a series of scenes of unspeakable madness on a regular basis - we had a player who had to catch the train home and I had begun to tread water with the stuff I was inventing. So we called it a night around the point that three of the characters had to burn down a church and euthanise a kindly chaplain in order to escape the horror, leaving the fourth (African-American) character to face the town's wrath.

Which left us totally disturbed without invoking the permanent insanity rule that'd mean one of the players would have to make their character start acting as the villain.

A group of us are beginning to organise a long run of Bliss Stage (my favourite game of the last 6 months). We met up after a series of emails to do some brainstorming about which teenage survivors in a ruined future version of Wellington we'd be playing and what the alien menace they'd be trying to defeat would look like. This brainstorming session was really interesting - for most of us, there were at least one or two other players we hadn't met before, and I could actually feel the trust being built between us as we learned to listen to each others' ideas, learned how to disagree with each other, and started learning how to talk through potentially difficult subject matter. One of the rules of Bliss Stage is that each session needs to begin with a bit of hanging out and connecting with each others' real lives before starting to play the game - that feels particularly wise in this situation.

We've created a nice tightly-wound situation where the teenagers are living in the tunnels under Wrights Hill, trying to learn how to farm and starting to play the next (first?) steps in their war to drive off the aliens. First session is tomorrow night!

Read Over the Edge by Robin D. Laws. I have wanted to really study a copy of this ever since one slipped through my fingers when I was working at Mind Games. In reality, this game about Naked Lunch style conspiracies on a Mediterranean island would have been great when I was gaming in the 90s. Now it feels a little too ... full. Of setting details. Of rules details (which is odd for a legendarily light game). In all, an interesting read and a great step in the career of an excellent game designer.

Finally unlocked the second-to-last level of my cellphone poker game.

Tried to play the Flash version of the Torquemada game from Dice Man. Got irritated and quit when (a) my character accidentally killed his own wife, and (b) I realised I couldn't cheat.

Played, enjoyed, and gave up quickly on Scrambled - a great idea for a path-finding game where you guide a robot through a series of obstacles.
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