Saturday, December 29, 2012

This is weird

Have you ever woken up in the morning having dreamed up a set of game mechanics? Not that what I've got are especially original, or even complete mechanics, but I'm like WTF?! — and now I feel obliged to give them a little more thought, make something out of them. In fact, what I dreamed up are mechanics for a specific part of an RPG, very traditional but with a twist; now I'd need to figure out the rest of the game which should come with them. Like: I've got this rules for driving you to the ground and razing whatever you built and sow salt on it; now of course I need a game structure in which you build things up.
Still, weird.

More thoughts as a pin-board for the mind: it's all about the roll-to-hit fetish, I guess (a fetish I used to swear I got over, go figure!) and how things go CLANG!, and you pile up on dice and then everything goes BOOM! Also, Hokuto no Ken, but not really (could be a very angry Jesus, or King Arthur).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Recensione del Larp Symposium 2012

Un mio articolo ospite della rubrica "Mondo Larp" di Andrea Castellani:
Il Larp Symposium aggiusta la rotta (non è mia la scelta del titolo).

New this month...

I didn't mean to employ the "monthly digest/play journal" format for this blog anymore, but sometimes I'm bound to fall back to it when life-shit kicks in, apparently. Since last post I was pretty busy dealing with a metric ton of non-game-related things, but now that's hopefully over.
11/30~12/2 I attended both the Larp Symposium and arCONate — half of each, actually, since these were two unrelated events happening over the same weekend within a short distance from each other. The former was quite an awesome convention, in the non-gamer sense of the word: people with experience and interest in the field gathering at some place to talk about it! "The field" being larp and all of its cousins, with quite an awesome detour about "urban games" this year, which I used to know very little about. This being its third year, the Larp Symposium is finally beginning to come into its own, maybe deviating from its starting concept a little but with really exciting outcomes as the payback.
ArCONate is instead the now-classic format for a friendly and relaxed tabletop role-playing convention as increasingly seen in Northern Italy of late: the organizing staff is practically the same as Coyote Press, a majority of the attendees is from the GenteCheGioca forum, and the beer is great. There I experienced a new and very interesting chamber larp by Susi Ansaloni and Oscar Biffi — whose poetics of late is mostly to employ rarefied Tolkien-esque fantasy atmospheres as the backdrop for pretty intimate, personal explorations, while mixing in a number of Jeepform-like techniques with a traditional British-freeform like, "here's your character background" basic structure. I also played a very drunk session of The Questing Beast, and I feel a bit sorry for the one player I met there for the first time (I hope you were able to have fun despite me, Michela!). But… did I mention that Doktor Rafu's Achievement Unlocked Party is ongoing? And it won't stop!
Also, yesterday I was finally able to run a playtest of Ben Robbins's Kingdom with the current draft of the rules, even if it was cut pretty short by time constraints — a blight which sadly insists on plaguing my home games of late. Now I've gotta write a report, which is due by 12/20.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Grail Epoch appetizer

I just played half a game of A Grail Epoch, Rafael Chandler's remix of Matthijs Holter's Archipelago. Since we attempted to plug it as an afterthought into an already tight schedule, the game went unfinished. Still, I believe I got to taste what's really good about it: it turns the assortment of miniature figures you happen to have available to pick from into a nice set of creative constraints, thus bypassing what's usually a long pre-play phase in Archipelago, the choice of a setting. A side-effect of this, coupled with more additional semi-random constraints (such as the way the map is built and the Exquisite Corpse style of writing Destiny Points), is that the game is turned into something more reminiscent of Fiasco than Archipelago — but whether A Grail Epoch is actually as good as Fiasco remains to be seen, through further play someday.
I encourage you all to give it a try, and by the way the minis don't actually have to be minis: I'm pretty sure you can play this with dolls, action figures, model kits, gashapon or other toys for a variety of effects, as long as your toys can stand (or sit) on the table! Lego minifigs or similarly customizable toys might make a huge difference, though, because you wouldn't be picking characters from a pool of available ones, then, but rather building them from a pool of available parts.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Young Knights of the Round. Part 2: half an afternoon at the library


In the afternoon after lunch break I welcomed a new group of players and started playing Fables of Camelot again from scratch (with a new, blank kingdom map and a full 20 Camelot dice). This one was a more heterogeneous group: two girls of 15 or 16, best friends with each other, and a boy of maybe 14 (high school 1st year), plus one (exceptionally brilliant) girl of 12. The teenagers were all bright, talkative and articulate; as for the youngest girl, I already knew she was used to playing games (board-games, card games, etc.) with older friends, mostly adults.
Character creation went according to script, much like in the morning. One apparently inconsequential detail was later revealed to be important, though: as one of the teenage girls went all blank-page-syndrome before the "name" field, I referred her to the names-list I had provided (in a corner of the character sheet) and, since everybody was over with this part already, she very hastily picked one name and scribbled it in: it happened to be "Gareth", from the "Male names" section of the list.
A short while later, as I was framing the introduction scene, it occurred me to ask the players for an exterior description of their knights. My inner rationale for this was that, this being a more extrovert and more "grownup" group than my vaguely geeky morning boys, I wished to get them involved with both the "thespian" aspect of play and with adding texture to the shared imagined space as soon as possible — in order both to get them to play with a more textured, more satisfying fiction, and to play with them myself more like I would with adults at a gaming convention. As they weren't volunteering such a piece of information themselves, it also occurred me to explicitly ask whether their knights were male or female. I wasn't fully comfortable formulating the question, actually, because I'm generally wary of gender binaries — but in the moment I couldn't find a good enough alternative formulation, either (one that wouldn't sound too exotic to them and potentially make me look like a weirdo when they would later talk about it with parents or teachers). My immediate fear, and rationale for asking, was that some of them could be making assumptions, such as that knights as such were supposed to be male or, worse even, that players were generally supposed to portray characters of their same gender: determined to dispel such fallacies, I resolved to ask. The girl playing Sir Gareth of the Eagle double-checked the name on her character sheet with the names-list while answering: «Uh, I'm… male, I guess.» More on this later.
The adventure I assigned them:
An elven princess and a young mortal man are in love. Not accepting this, her cruel brothers change the man into a white stag and chase him with their wild hunt.*
It is the adventure Eero Tuovinen used when demonstrating the game to me in Helsinki, and what I most like of it is that it affords an impressive first scene, with the deer running into Camelot and right through the Round Table chased by fey hounds: also a great opportunity for having an example conflict already before leaving Camelot! The downside of using this adventure is that it tends to take longer than most, maybe because of the rather large cast of characters involved, maybe due to an amount of colorful, unwritten content which I can't help myself but reiterate (as I know it by heart) from Eero's story-guiding performance: the two elfin brothers serving as villains, for example, complete with characterization, as well as some details concerning faerie magic. But I had quite a long time-slot available for this group (almost four hours), therefore I wasn't particularly worried about pace or schedule.
Just as I hoped, we got action-y already during the introduction scene, so that by the end of it everybody was fluent with the game already. When a knight triumphed in a conflict to keep the hounds at bay, at the price of being wounded, I deliberately broke a rule by inviting the player to narrate instead of doing it myself. My purpose was to show them how we were playing the game together and, while we held clearly distinct roles, theirs weren't subordinate to mine in any way, nor were they acting out "my" story — and in fact the girl explained her victory and wound with no need to step out of the boundaries of her role, nor to play any one of "my" characters in my stead. Players were unanimously distrustful of the elven brothers (known as the Lord of the Dark Oak Forest and the Lord of the Bright Castle of Tall Spires), and at least one of them displayed empathy toward the stag, even as King Arthur ordered them all to go fetch the wondrous beast.
Again, I handed them resource dice as the knights left Camelot and quickly explained what those stood for, which was well understood and non-problematic. Then I threw at them a favorite travel encounter of mine — a purely human one, since the adventure so far was packed full enough with magical stuff:
A "green knight" (i.e. a knight going incognito) camping by a river ford is challenging all who pass by to a jousting duel, lest they're denied passage. He has slain many a valiant knight this way already.
The player knights, who were tracking the white stag, decided they couldn't afford a detour nor a delay, and that they thus had no choice but to joust. After some debate to pick a candidate champion amongst them, nobody being especially eager to fight, the boy's knight reluctantly stepped on up to the challenge. He overcame the foe and I narrated how the Green Knight, grievously wounded and encumbered by armor, fell from horseback into the raging river. The player then wished he could save the green knight from certain death, which I (again introducing this rule) allowed him to do by virtue of overflow success dice. The grateful and repentant green knight thus became an asset of the player characters' (as expressed by me adding one resource die to their pool).
Still on the track, the Knights of the Round Table discovered that the white deer was doubling on its own prints and heading back whence it came: to a pristine forest, overlooked by the tall spires of an odd-looking castle. They finally cornered the magical beast in a clearing of the woods, where they found it was near death, having been wounded by a wicked-looking, white-plumed arrow — then, they head the wild hunt approaching!
It actually took the players a lot of time, in real life, to decide what to do, but they came up with a pretty good plan: half of them were to smear themselves with stag blood and lead the hunt on a false trail, to win their comrades the time they needed to carry the wounded beast away. In fact, the other two knights were supposed to bring the white deer to Camelot, as they all had parsed King Arthur's order as requiring this explicitly (no matter that the animal was instead desperately trying, with waning strength, to get closer to the castle). As the witch wife of one of the knights was with them, her mystical powers were deemed sufficient to both heal the wounded stag (or at least stabilize it) and to mask its scent long enough for the hunt to go after the false trail. This misdirection was, of course, a conflict roll — at which they succeeded, but one of the knights acting as a lure to the hunters suffered a wound: obviously from a lucky shot from the Lord of the Dark Oak Forest's charmed bow, and the wild hunt was now closing onto them.
As a side note, I was and still am very happy with the aesthetics of magic & the supernatural we were collectively establishing as a group: it's obvious that my fellow players got a few clues from me and run with those in perfect "say yes" style, then made them their own. Magic was mysterious in our game, and it was about transformation, healing and "wild" things — not of the ordered, aseptically disciplined, special-effects-based videogame sort. What they asked of Nimès, as we now christened the Wolf-knight's witch wife on the spot, felt appropriately witch-like, and I felt like such an aesthetic resonance was being generally perceived, and appreciated, by all.
With the party split, and having spent some time deciding how to split resource dice (9) between the two pairs of knights, we went on to play two parallel scenes. I asked two of the players to physically switch chairs, so that we could better visualize that. I can't say there weren't any issues with this setup: since players were prone to spend quite a long time debating their options, when one group was trying to decide on their course of actions playing audience to them was quite boring for the other group; but as I tried to remedy this through montage, quickly switching the spotlight from one scene to the other, then the debating party wasn't paying attention to the other one at all.
This far the boy had emerged as being the one spotlight-hogging player, though entirely due to any fault of his own: his Wolf-knight character was the one who had fought the Green Knight and taken him as a retainer, and he was also the one with a witch wife — a substantial asset whom he now commanded to stay with the other group; finally he was the one wounded in the chase. Such a combination of fictional events was clearly directing the spotlight on him, in a Prime Time Adventures-esque Screen Presence sense. Unfortunately, he was also the most analytical player, thus the one dominating debates and effectively delaying collective decisions most of the time. While he risked overshadowing the other players (also relevantly, he was the one with gender privilege amongst them), everybody appeared to be quite enjoying play on their own terms, thus I didn't parse the boy's social role as much of a problem and only took mild action about it, rather than compound the issue by focusing on him to solve it. What I did was just to focus on the other three players as much as I could, talking to them and not letting him step in as a spokesperson for the party. Additionally, I began to portray the witch as a full-fledged NPC, first insisting on naming her on the spot (something which the boy player had unconsciously resisted doing): as soon as she was speaking with a voice of her own, their relationship immediately stood out as being a little conflictual, as her husband was obviously ordering her around like a weapon and asset, not respecting her as a human character; I had her react with sarcasm and a hint of a patronizing demeanor. The teenage girl players obviously took notice, and this subtly affected their social interactions with the boy: bolstered with entitlement, they now clearly had the upper hand in out-of-character chatter (both at the table and later during the break), no matter the role of the Wolf-knight in the fiction.
The knights headed to Camelot had a shorter but, I hope, meaningful adventure with magic. One of them asked the witch Nimès to change the white deer into some smaller, more portable shape — to which she answered that she was unable to change again what was changed already, as this was in her opinion a man in deer form: the mystery was finally being unraveled. I made healing the man-stag into a conflict, focused on removing the (wicked and magical) white arrow which was killing him; I also made it clear that, while they were rolling dice for Nimès as part of their regular assets, the player knights had to take a risk themselves in order to have a chance to succeed. At the whim of the dice, they were both wounded: I described a thick, evil smoke spreading from the cursed arrow as they broke its shaft, which entered their lungs and poisoned them a last act of fey spite. The white deer was stabilized and, through the arts of the witch, brought back to human form. I described him as a "very handsome" young man, and all of a sudden Sir Gareth of the Eagle's player (who was, I suppose, hitching for some romance in our game) openly lamented her unwise selection of character gender: «What? And I'm a guy?! That's too bad!» Now caving in to my latent queer activism agenda, I half-told her that guy-on-guy action oughtn't actually be a problem… then, recovering from my misstep, I instead told her that her former choice of gender needed not be binding: maybe Gareth was a woman all the time, but nobody noticed because of the way she dresses? She looked uncertain, maybe overwhelmed with too much input, and she reserved to think some more about it before deciding anything. Anyway, from the injured man the knights got full back-story exposition — and Gareth's player was like: «Ooh, it's a love story! Nice!»
Meanwhile, the Wolf knight and the Jaguar knight were deep in trouble: cornered by the vengeful elf brothers' wild hunt just under the walls of the fey castle. Like I've said, they debated for a long time what exactly to do, but it was all about tactical options, as I made it pretty obvious that the elves wished them dead. Based on fictional positioning (which was almost entirely dependent on my framing, thus ultimately on my fiat) they read their situation as exceptionally risky: many foes to face (the hounds were magically changed into wild warriors before their eyes), obviously capable of dangerous magic, the moat of the castle behind, and both of them had been wounded already. This is probably why it took them so long to make their mind and pick up the dice; but, on the other hand, I'm happy that they didn't just disregard danger based on such things as the mechanical irrelevance wounds (during the adventure): we instead enjoyed an appropriate amount of tension. They knew their main asset in a battle were their own men-at-arms and followers, and what happened in the end is that we negotiated the exact positioning of said asset: we established/retconned that the two knights were alone when cornered (as befitted their stealth action as a lure for the hunt), but that their men were close by, ready to charge into the fray from the forest, lead by the Green Knight. They rolled the dice, and it was not an easily won victory, as multiple Resources were lost. I took the clue and narrated a fierce, feral battle, with quite a gruesome vignette or three, and in which the Green Knight also met his fate (which was much lamented by the boy playing the Wolf-knight, though again more like the loss of a precious asset than that of a human character).
As one of the elven brother was slain in battle and the other one was instead captured alive, a discussion then arose what to do with this prisoner and, especially, whether to risk entering the fey castle or not. I believe the decision to enter, with the lord of the castle held hostage at sword-tip as the knights' life insurance, was primarily driven by the boy player who believed the elves' claim that the castle held great treasures and wished to acquire those — for the glory of Camelot, of course! It was then time for me to prominently display the last important NPC: the lovesick elven princess. Through this character, who of course made demands of her own, I clarified that the fate of all NPCs was basically in the player knights' hands. The player-level discussion about what to do, then, transcended the strictures of scene framing, as players whose knights were already in Camelot questioned or tried to affect the actions of those in the fey castle. Sensing that play had naturally and emergently proceeded to that phase anyway, I interrupted them to explain the rules for placing resource-dice over the map. Players basically agreed to establish the elf girl as lady of the castle and a retainer of King Arthur and let her and her lover be rejoined, but differed on what to do about the supposed riches of the elves: the boy playing the Wolf-knight was set on requisitioning such treasures as compensation for the losses they incurred, while the girl playing Sir Gareth of the Eagle, especially, vehemently expressed her opinion that the treasures of the castle were necessary to the young lovers for their future prosperity.
Mindful of our real-life schedule (players and demonstrators from other groups were having their mid-afternoon snack break already), I excised a bit of fiat to arbitrate the argument to a quick conclusion: I just assumed independent action from the individual knights, based on their stated preferences, and jumped straight to the conclusion. Using the guideline that the gratitude of powerful people is worth as many Resource dice as there are player knights, I handed out two dice (that is, half the amount) to the boy, representing treasures plundered, and two dice to the girls, representing the gratitude of the elf-princess and the worth of such an alliance to Camelot (and/or additional treasures brought to Camelot as gifts). I then proceeded to do quite a heavy-handed thing: I told the players how treasures forcibly taken from the elves (as opposed to spontaneously given by them) after a while turned into dead leaves — and I then took back two dice from their Resources pool! Was this too heavy-handed on my part? Too judgmental? Did I de-protagonize the Wolf-knight, or give out a wrong message about how the game works? I'm not sure. I can only say that, right in the moment, it felt like a sensible thing to do, according to the integrity of the fiction; failing to do so would have, in my perception at least, trivialized magic and the power of the elves. Were I unconsciously "siding with" the girls to visit an Æsop on the boy? If so, I'm not convinced this was in fact harmful to anybody — rather, with the Wolf-knight having been very actively in the spotlight of the fiction, it only compensated the other players to help them step on the moral high-ground.
A couple interesting phenomena occurred while drawing elements/allocating dice on the map. First, an excessive interest for the quality of the drawing, fueled by the fact that no one of the player (unlike the younger kids in the morning) felt very confident drawing. Which may be an age group thing, considering that after a while the youngest girl took charge of drawing. Anyway, the fey castle was drawn and erased a couple of times — and completely out of scale, I add, with the printed icon of Camelot I had provided. Second thing is, when the "you can put dice into your own domains" thing clicked in, the game turned into Advanced Cottages & Real Estate for a few minutes — everybody wished someone else to draw them a beautiful castle by the seaside, or next to a lake. Despite the aforementioned problem with lack of drawing confidence, that is, the aesthetics of one's domain became a concern and a source of enthusiasm. This is quite different from what happened with the younger, morning group, where each player wished to make an original contribution - not just another castle! - reflecting the specifics of their character; with these people, instead, each created a castle, and castle-creation became an act of wish-fulfillment in itself. Does this maybe relate with a desire for personal space at a certain age, as opposed to a desire for agency/impact over the world in the youngest kids? Their collective enthusiasm for building personalized castles, and difficulty actually drawing castles, carried us way past the expected break time — but we went and had a break anyway.


* = This a variant of an adventure/encounter "core" from the Finnish "ashcan" rulebook: An elven prince and a noble maid are having a secret affair. The brothers of the woman do not accept this, and so try to slay the prince. The prince transforms into a wondrous animal to escape.
** = From the Finnish "ashcan" rulebook, courtesy of Eero Tuovinen (and possibly authored by Sami Koponen).

Monday, October 29, 2012


You've been owned
We're all being owned.
You've been owned

Ma… Rafu — già m'immagino dirà qualche lettore, lasciandosi confondere dalle solite semplificazioni dualistiche che in fondo esistono apposta — da quando in qua sei una specie di paladino della proprietà privata? Ti sembra una cosa abbastanza di sinistra di cui preoccuparsi, questa?
Solo che qui non si tratta affatto, a parer mio, di difendere la proprietà privata in quanto proprietà; si tratta invece di difendere i diritti degli individui — cioè degli esseri umani — contro i diritti delle aziende. Cioè della roba. Si tratta dei diritti degli esseri umani, che gli esseri umani hanno sulla roba, contro i diritti della roba, che la roba avrebbe sugli esseri umani. A me sembra pazzesco, se mai, che dobbiamo davvero essere qui a parlare di questo… Ma ci siamo. Nessuna delle più fondamentali ovvietà è scontata: nessun diritto è garantito, neppure — come in questo caso — di fronte al paradosso.
Si tratta di legislazione statunitense, certo. Ma inutile fingere di ignorare il precedente, pericoloso, che essa pone per tutti.

Per quanto riguarda invece la merda che puzza più immediatamente sotto il nostro naso, temo che al parlamento italiano l'abbiano azzeccata: evidentemente la seconda volta puzza meno e nessuno la nota.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Remember Tomorrow: ongoing

We just completed another episode of Remember Tomorrow. From next time we are definitely going to need some house-rules that make it possible to reincorporate more characters of old as opposed to introducing new ones. By this time, in fact, our world is vast enough and discovering what's going to happen to previously mentioned characters has become our strongest motivation to keep playing — any brand new characters we usher in now are at risk of being perfunctory or bland, only created because we have to.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Young Knights of the Round. Part 1: a morning at the library

So, there was this role-playing day we ran at a local library, aimed at youth (11-18 years old), which was an awesome hit, thanks to everybody involved (including the library staff, who were sweet, and the players themselves, who were great). Shock:, and Don't Rest Your Head were played* and enthusiastically received — by girls, boys and (a last-minute surprise addition!) a group of four teachers as well. As for me, I ran Fables of Camelot the whole day with two different groups of players and now I want to rave about it a little.
In the morning, I played with four male 7th-graders. I described the setting in just a few words and stated one of the key points of the game upfront: that Knights, as representatives of the King, are empowered to act according to their own discretion toward the well-being of the kingdom (this I later restated multiple times, both in-character through Arthur and Merlin and in OOC table chatter, to hammer the point home). They had no problem with that.
To ease character creation, I presented them with some blank character sheets I had laid out, with headers listed exactly in the order we were to fill the blanks in, plus room aplenty to draw one's coat of arms and a big list of sample knightly names on the side. They came up with all manners of questions such as "Can I draw background elements as well [in my coat of arms, besides the heraldic animal]?" — which was good, because through asking and answering we were establishing some (working) basic group dynamics already.
As we got to the opening scene (which involved the traditional Pentecostal feast, of course, and then a messenger literally flying into the middle of the Round Table with a plea for help), it took them a minute or two to overcome the initial embarrassment and seize initiative from me, but then they immediately and instinctively acquired basic fluency and we were playing for real. As they left Camelot, I handed them some Resource dice with only a partial explanation of what those are for, but explicitly pointing out the dice-pool was a collective responsibility of them all until they eventually parted ways or returned. Then I threw a simple travel encounter at them (one of my own devising):
A monstrous river troll guards a bridge, demanding a toll from those wishing to cross.
I think I maybe had to point out to them that they could take whatever course of action they could think of, that they have to decide on a course of action and then announce it to me as final, and that they didn't have to all agree but disagreement could be handled through them parting ways (and splitting their Resource dice). They almost surprised me by: (1)paying lots of attention to their fictional positioning, (2)asking very pertinent questions to further clarify their positioning and (3)going for a pretty elaborate plan. I.e.: since the river was running through a woodland, they decided to fell some trees and have another bridge built. Then, as I described the monster attacking the very first pillar of the would-be new bridge trying to demolish it, showing some quick wit they chose to run and cross the old bridge. The ensuing race and pursuit gave me a chance to demonstrate the conflict resolution rules, which they promptly understood (it's obvious they all had some gaming background from videogames and one of them from game-books as well). I even integrated extra success spending, which was the one rule I had planned to leave out, because it was actually the right tool for the job as a player wanted the monster dealt with for good.
The main adventure I had picked for them was:
Maid Liones refuses to wed the Red Knight, and thus the Knight sieges her castle, keeping her prisoner within her own home.**
Thus, I described the besieged castle and the military camp surrounding it and, to be sure they understood violence was not their only option, I had an herald of the Red Knight come and greet them. They actually pleased me in two, conflicting ways:
  • they listened to both sides in the conflict, learning their motives, before debating what to do
  • but still, before having met with maid Liones, one of them (the one with the Courtier quality), acting on the impulse of the moment, already promised the Red Knight to write some love poetry to the maid in his stead (this being another instance of them paying attention to positioning, as "love letters" and "poetry" were some of the examples I had used earlier on while trying to explain the rather esoteric meaning of "Courtier" to them).
They actually spent a lot of time debating all of their options, including both honoring and dishonoring the promise to the Red Knight, and in fact covering the whole range from killing the Knight to killing the maid! For a while, I actually wondered whether they would be able to make their mind at all, as all of them radically revised their own individual stance on the matter multiple times. Still, forcing their hand was flat out of the question for me, so I very discreetly offered just a little commentary as table chatter while for the most part I limited myself to answering explicit questions, and waited. Obviously enough, the details of their plans (how they could accomplish something) were of much greater interest to them than what they actually accomplished or whom they helped — as long as they could end the present conflict one way or the other. They appeared to pass no moral judgment on the NPCs at all, while exhibiting some basic empathy with them.
Finally, much to my delight, they coalesced into two opposite factions —not hostile to each other, but rather agreeing to disagree and to pursue directly opposing goals. Three of them joined forces in trying to make the maid fall in love with her suitor: the courtly knight wrote passionate verses that a second knight delivered (and actively convinced maid Liones to read, lest she discard the still sealed missive), while a third knight (being a holy Pilgrim as his distinctive trait) prayed for the success of this endeavor. Meanwhile, the fourth of them was instead attempting to make the Red Knight fall out of love with the fair lady, by making her look grotesquely ugly through skillful application of make-up in preparation of appearing before him. In the end, as the whim of the dice dictated, it was the coalition of three to have it their way; there were no hard feelings from the fourth player.
The gratitude of the Red Knight making the newly joined couple eligible for a pledge of fealty to King Arthur, this was indeed a good time to tell the kids about the map and permanently investing Resource dice. As expected, they greatly enjoyed the idea of establishing their own castles and drawing those on the map: in fact, compared to adults I previously played the game with, they placed their dice much more liberally, bringing back to Camelot only a scant few. What I had not considered was the logistics of drawing on the map to become a challenge in itself! After spending an inordinate amount of time drawing a single castle, though, the kids agreed to mark places with circles and names only, and play went on.
I asked them to each pick their "best" fellow knight, which they did with honesty and careful deliberation, and we improved Fame scores accordingly. Having had no real fights in the adventure meant no Might gains — a fact which I actually avoided highlighting except for a quick passing remark, out of my personal fondness of them looking for nonviolent (and less obvious) solutions, but which couldn't escape their notice. Since there was one wounded knight, he had to roll for surviving the winter: he was successful, and the roll felt like a very tense moment for everybody at the table (including myself, as I had no clue what would be of that player's enjoyment otherwise). Rolling for winter in Camelot, I had to remove maybe 4 which rolled 1s out of a dozen, which the the kids felt (if I could properly read their facial expressions) was a pretty harsh outcome of a terribly harsh rule — good, that, as it raised excitement by instilling a sense of urgency and of the importance of their knightly mission.
All of the above took, I think, about an hour and a half, and of course taxed the kids' attention span to its limit, but they were all so excited about the game to be effectively tireless. Now that I called for a break and we all went for a snack, finally lack of focus came forward. With one more hour to go before the kids' allowed time-slot was over, I announced I was going to run another adventure in case anybody was interested, and all the four of them enthusiastically came back for more. Still, it took some time and lots of random chatter before we were again able to focus on play. Such chatter was somewhat useful, though, as I learned a lot about their individual tastes in videogames, other geeky pastimes and general degree of media literacy (I was, for example, quite surprised to discover one of them played such a complicated computer game as Skyrim). More importantly, I learned how eager they were to test their knights' swords in a fight.
Also before we resumed playing, the kids came up with explicit requests for their next adventure. One of them (who, at this point, stood out as being a little obsessed with magic and alchemy) wished to go on a quest for the Philosopher's Stone (a Harry Potter reference to him, as I soon discovered, but one that he unilaterally decided to port whole-cloth into our Arthurian world); another one, probably more familiar with the Round Table mythos, contended they should go on a quest for the Holy Grail instead. I considered whether to grant their wishes… As the reader may have noticed already, I tend to approach running Fables of Camelot more or less as it was "Dogs in the Vineyard lite": I'm interested in how players react to problematic situations which have no obvious "right answer", human and social conflicts usually (no matter how craftily disguised with fantastic elements). This means I care a lot for which adventure seeds I choose. I had no "Philosopher's Stone" adventure seed in my lists, nor time to devise it, and as to the Grail Quest here's my tried-and-tested take on it:
In the chapel of a miraculous castle, inhabited by a wise king, is the Holy Cup, which no man has ever looked upon and survived. It is the will of God, they say, that only a flawless knight can have it.
…which I've had a great time playing with adults, multiple times, but in the moment I deemed too subtle for my excited audience of 7th-graders. Thus, I decided to negotiate with them a customized application of the game rules: I told them that quests for magical items wouldn't make good adventures in the format we were playing, but that they could instead invest their end-of-adventure dice towards completion of those individual quests, adding such things as the repositories of the magic items to the kingdom map. It was fine with them.
In addition to the above, I ran with their suggestions and immediately worked their setting ideas into the general backdrop of the game. Thus, before going into the introduction scene proper, I narrated (in just a couple sentences) how Arthur had, of late, become obsessed with the Holy Grail and sent many a valiant knight on a fruitless quest for it, weakening the borders of the realm against pirates and marauders. I added that one of the knights had been spending the last months as a close consultant to Merlin the wizard, perusing ancient tomes in search of the whereabouts of the fabled Philosopher's Stone, which would greatly empower Camelot if found. As for the actual adventure, considering the biggest player-level issue still on the table I chose one about fighting:
Peasants wish to skirmish with Saxons. The local priest attempts to prevent needless bloodletting.**
For greater immediacy I replaced "Saxons" with awesome Viking raiders, having the polar bear as their heraldic animal — my reasoning being that no Italian 12yrs-old knows about Saxons, but all of them have heard of Vikings. The vignette I used to introduce the adventure was that of a hunt, during which an alarm horn was heard: from a high place, the knights could witness a veritable army of Vikings arriving with their longships and setting camp on a distant shore, next to a coastal village. As a surrogate for a travel encounter, I instead told them that one longship had landed much closer to them and a scouting unit of about 20 raiders was coming right their way.
The players again spent quite a long time debating their strategy. That they were going to fight was a given to them, as was the fact that four Knights of the Round could take on twenty Viking pirates, just not head-on: their doubts only concerned the effectiveness of various tactical options, and that's what they debated. Two of them were actually impatient to just charge into the fray, and I expected them to split; but as I, acting like a discussion moderator, recapped their individual courses of action, it became obvious that they were all in fact going to cooperate closely. They devised a trap, complete with bait, drove the Viking raiding party right into it, and then attacked from multiple sides to mow down any remaining foes. A couple unanticipated things happened in the immediate aftermath of such a battle.
First, the magic-obsessed player's knight having been wounded, he came up with the idea of using some "healing magic" he had received from Merlin back in Camelot in order to be healed right then and not wait for the winter. I pondered this a little and then I announced it was OK that he dealt with the wound there and then — not bothering to explain how this was not to his advantage game-mechanics-wise, as he was obviously dead-set on it already. The dice turned out in his favor.
Second, based on the logistics of their trap I announced they had taken many Vikings for prisoners, not realizing myself the consequences this was to carry. It happened in fact that one of the kids announced, like it was the only natural thing to do and a perfectly innocent one as well, that he was going to torture the prisoners for information! To which, all unquestioningly agreed. I was absolutely horrified! In my inner monologue, I cursed three generations of Hollywood movies for indoctrinating children about "righteous" violence, rule of the fittest and teaching them prisoners are for torturing. I kept my opinions to myself, though. My way out of this was instead through portrayal of NPCs: at the mere mention of the threat of torture, I announced, the prisoners spilled all their beans — and there wasn't much to learn, anyway: ultimately, those guys were just pirates who'd heard that King Arthur had gone mad and his kingdom was growing weaker.
Thus, the knights got to the coastal village, where they found untrained commoners intent in reforging their tools into weapons and a very concerned parish priest. Surveying the Viking camp from the bell-tower of the village church, again they debated their tactical options for quite a long time, intent on what amounted to winning a war with no reinforcements — the four of them against an army. The magic-happy player had to be moderated a little at this point since, in his growing excitement, he was derailing the planning into tangential chatter (and drawing me into it, actually). The choice which they later favored was actually made in a heartbeat, as one of them said: "let's randomly pick one of us to fight their leader", and instantly got everybody to dice off for it. But it took much more debating before this course of action was confirmed as final. I clarified that getting the Viking leader to accept the challenge was not a given, but rather an exceptional exploit in itself. As the one knight randomly chosen for the duel was, amusingly enough, the one who'd sided against the Red Knight in their previous adventure, the other three of them deliberately reenacted the same course of action: one wrote a letter of challenge, one materially delivered it, while the third one prayed for their success. It was nice and satisfactory to see plot formulas already brewing and being reincorporated over just two units of play. The challenge was accepted, the 1-vs-1 duel fought, and as Sir Leon the Lion triumphed over the fearsome, grizzled Viking boss all of the raiders retired, sailing back home. I specifically told Leon's player he held his opponent's life in his palm, and he - taking my clue - happily spared the Viking.
When the village priest offered a meager reward (1 Resource die), the players elected to reject it, as they had identified the village as poor and needy. They took my suggestion to draw the village on the map, then, naming it and leaving that one die with it. Two of the knights then went on their individual quests, and both a Bank of the Philosopher's Stone (an addition to Castle Camelot) and a Grail Grotto were added to the map. Concerning the Grail, I allowed myself to give out one last piece of advice:
What if you found the place where the Holy Grail was hidden, but there's a plaque there which says: "Only the flawless knight can take me"? And you don't dare take the Grail yourself, but you become its guardian?
And so it was. Finally, the kids made quite a show of happiness as the Might scores on their character sheets increased.


* = 1001 Nights was also scheduled but sadly Matteo, who was supposed to run it, got a fever and dropped out at the very last minute (when it was too late already to call in a replacement).
** = Adventure/encounter "core" from the Finnish rulebook, courtesy of Eero Tuovinen (and possibly authored by Sami Koponen).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

20 ottobre: evento di gioco di ruolo per ragazze e ragazzi fino a 18 anni

Le storie sono di tutti! Giochi di ruolo per creare e raccontare

Descrizione evento

Verranno presentate diverse tipologie di gioco di ruolo, destinate a due diverse fasce d'età: anni 11-14 e anni 15-18. I facilitatori guideranno i ragazzi a creare storie appartenenti a generi diversi (dalle gesta di re Artù, al fantasy e alla fantascienza) attraverso l'esperienza del gioco. I giochi selezionati mirano a appassionare al gusto della narrazione non come lettori passivi ma come protagonisti attivi, favorendo un'atmosfera di gruppo dove il contributo di ciascuno è fondamentale. La biblioteca effettuerà in contemporanea un'apertura straordinaria proponendo percorsi di lettura attinenti ai giochi proposti. Per partecipare ai giochi sarà necessaria la prenotazione.
  • Le favole di Camelot (metodo di Sami Koponen e Eero Tuovinen/presentato da Raffaele Manzo)
  • Non cedere al sonno (metodo di Fred Hicks/presentato da Barbara Fini)
  • Dō: i pellegrini del Tempio Volante (metodo di Daniel Solis/presentato da Antonio Caciolli)
  • Shock: fantascienza sociale (metodo di Joshua A.C. Newman/presentato da Simone Lombardo)
  • 1001 Notte (metodo di Meguey Baker/presentato da Matteo Turini)


Biblioteca comunale
Via degli Alberti, 11
Signa, FI


- il 20/10/2012 ore 10.00 a 13.00
- il 20/10/2012 ore 15.00 a 19.00


a cura di Barbara Fini e Raffaele Manzo


accessibile ai disabili

Evento rivolto a

bambini e ragazzi (età 11-18 anni)


Su prenotazione

Per informazioni

Biblioteca comunale
Via degli Alberti, 11
Signa , FI
Tel. 055875700
Fax. 055875930

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mondo Larp: una rubrica di Andrea Castellani

Il mio buon amico Andrea Castellani si è lasciato convincere dal sito Gdr Italia a tenere una rubrica settimanale sul mondo del larp: Mondo Larp, appunto.
Di sicuro, non potevano scegliere meglio il loro uomo… Dubito vi sia, in Italia e forse fuori, persona più qualificata di Andrea a parlare di questo argomento in tutte le sue più variegate declinazioni. E la rubrica stessa, finora, si presenta assai variegata anch'essa, se consideriamo che in tre settimane Andrea ci ha prodotto:
Aggiornamenti ogni lunedì.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A telegraphic wrap-up for August and, well, most of Semptember

I’m experiencing one of those too-busy-to-even-update-my-blog phases – so much for the regular monthly wrap-up posts! I’m still having a gaming life, though. Thus I’m going to concisely, telegraphically go through the last games I played, as a place-holder and summary, while fully intentioned to write in-depth reports of the most interesting ones sometime in the near future. In case you’re interested in hearing about something in particular, ask: I’ll try to oblige requests as soon as possible before writing about any other games.

— § —

As I mentioned already, early in August I was able to play a full game of Swords Without Masters – City of Fire and Coin. It was a three-players game (as opposed to the recommended four) played over two sessions in a private house, and I’m much obliged to Epidiah “Eppy” Ravachol for providing me with the necessary rule variants in the first place. In fact, I should probably be writing an AP report for Eppy’s benefit right now, as long as I can remember a thing, rather than be blogging like this. Let’s just say that I’m going to grab the finished book as fast as I can as soon as it’s out, but also that one of the reasons I want the book so badly is that I’m looking for those game-teaching methods other than City of Fire and Coin it’s supposed to include.

— § —

Other August games included a single playtesting/playstorming session for I reietti di Eden (which confirmed it can’t currently be played as a single-session game), a short but juicy game of Ben Lehman’s The Drifter’s Escape (boasting an unusual combination of features: it was both a demonstration of a sort, to a new player with very little previous role-playing experience, and a sequel from an old game with a much-beloved main character), and, unusually, just a few scenes of two-players Remember Tomorrow (to finish off an episode).

— § —

On September 1st and 2nd I attended GnoccoCon in Reggio Emilia. It was as good a convention as always, a few minor quibbles with food logistics nonwithstanding: the record attendance this installment achieved (75 people or more!) obviously taxed the existing structures and routines past their limit, but hopefully the organizers are going to pay this a thought and bring a measure of change to next year’s edition (which I’m anticipating already).
I ran a game of Meguey Baker’s Psi*Run (which proved very convention-friendly, as expected), a round of Ben Lehman’s Clover (as cute as expected, more bittersweet than expected) and the one-full-length-timeslot Fables of Camelot mini-campaign I was hoping for (though we didn’t actually make it to endgame in time), plus I was finally able to try out Daniel Solis’s Dō: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple (lots of potential). It was a good two days indeed.

— § —

There was, then, a bit of a role-playing hiatus. But last weekend me and Barbara got back to Remember Tomorrow again to start a new episode, which already expanded our fictional world with some totally unexpected content while reincorporating favorite characters of old.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Monthly Wrap-up: a report of July 2012 EtrusCon

Last month, as my gaming staple most of the time, I kept playing two-players, long-form Remember Tomorrow in weird places, outdoors and while traveling. Then, on the last weekend of July, I went to EtrusCon. Sooner or later I’m going to write in detail about Remember Tomorrow and the pros and cons of playing it the way we’re playing it – this time, however, I’m going to concern myself with writing a convention report instead.


I held very high expectations for this summer-edition EtrusCon, both because last year’s summer edition had been capital-A-awesome and because the winter edition was instead considerably underwhelming. What I got was in fact a mixed bag, partly because of a decline in attendance (compared to last summer).
Since EtrusCon is a classic hotel-convention with a very hands-off organization paradigm (what the one organizer, Simone, actually does is just to negotiate a discount hotel rate and reserve rooms for attendees, and that’s it), the obvious upside to it is a no-time-wasted, play-all-the-time attitude, the implied downside being that you need to set yourself up for it beforehand, though, because there is little support provided for organizing tables on the fly (no “front desk”, no call-to-arms, not even a local, off-line master copy of the schedule). I was only half-successful with organizing myself in advance, though, part because of untimeliness and/or risk-taking on my part (reserving a less-than-ideal timeslot for a given game in order to be able to play with a given person, say, plus experimenting with multiple shorter games per time-slot, being late in the morning as is usual for me, etc.) and part because of some players being delayed by traffic, or tired early in the evening, etc. – this resulting in some waste of time re-organizing tables and, ultimately, a high percentage of aborted games. It’s good to hear that this was just my own subjective blight, though (contrary to the last winter edition, when exceedingly low attendance made this the general norm), while the general ratio of finished games people had at the convention was high.
An additional drawback of a hotel-convention is, in the event of lower-than-ideal attendance (i.e. the hotel being not sold-out), having to share spaces with other random people. And, well, the EtrusCon hotel, as it happens, is large enough that it would take 100+ stay-in attendees to sell it out, making this a near-impossible proposition for the time being: AFAIK, the largest attendancies to hotel-based role-playing conventions in Italy were recorded by last year’s summer EtrusCon and some editions of InterNosCon, and barely exceeded 50 people.
But enough with the organizer-oriented gibberish! Let’s talk about the games I played, instead. Asterisks mark games I scheduled and ran/facilitated myself. I was also supposed to run a game of MegueyBaker’s Psi*Run, but we had to cancel it because of half the interested players not making it to the hotel in time.

Fables of Camelot* — this is a little, surprisingly well-crafted game by Sami Koponen with Eero Tuovinen, whose existence I discovered by sheer happenstance as Eero ran it for me and a random bunch of Solmukohta-goers in Helsinki, a few months ago. It’s touted as an introductory role-playing game, good for a convention environment and also suitable for children – and it’s exactly because I plan on using it with children that I decided to train myself in running it. Thus I took it to EtrusCon as a perennial, persistent and weekend-spanning, multi-installment off-slot filler game that multiple groups of players could dip into for a round or more.
While I didn’t get to play all the way to the fall of Camelot (the system-mandated ending), it was good enough to play three full quests, with parties ranging in size from six down to three knights. I think I learned a lot about Fables of Camelot in the process. Fully confirmed were all of its immediately apparent pros: explaining the rules is indeed effortless and takes very little time, heraldic animals are a greatly effective characterization device, drawing one’s own coat of arms is great fun, consequential decisions with no predetermined good or bad choice (think Dogs in the Vineyard) are both an absolute focus of the game and a transparent process (in that you don’t usually have to point them out, out-of-character), dice-rolls are both infrequent and tense (and they take very little time to execute, while channeling a great deal of attention). I think I learned how to plan “adventures” and frame scenes appropriately, and I’m pretty sure by now that should one have access to the full text, with its long lists of example quests and travel-scenes to pick from, then running the game would be truly effortless – unfortunately, the book’s only available in Finnish.
What I didn’t expect, though, was that the game could grow to such a quiet solemnity as we experienced in the Grail quest: I’m deeply impressed. Sure, should I look for a shortcoming to point out, this is not a game of very nuanced and complex characters – but is its reference literature? It’s all about broad strokes and large-picture plots, and emerging commentary which satisfies from a metaplay vantage point, not about the psychological finesse of fictional characters in the resulting fiction. Now I’m thinking I’ll reserve a full time-slot for Fables of Camelot at some upcoming convention, possibly GnoccoCon, to play all the way to the endgame: it should be feasible enough a feat.

SeaDracula — it’s really odd how I’ve been having the handbook for this game in my possession since it still sported a (1$) price-tag, but had never tried it out before! I remember thinking, at the time, that something about the text didn’t “click” for me and I’d rather look up somebody who could teach me how to play by example. Well, how changed I am since then, for now the text speaks so clearly to me! Know that the game was great fun, ran shorter than I expected it to (which is a plus!) and is totally appropriate for parties – almost a party-game, yeah, though maybe a tad too complex in the setup for a “casual gamer” audience. I’m gonna play this again, soon and often. ♥

Tactical Ops (playtest) — having left one time-slot open in my schedule, I found myself with a random party of six people (my old friend Alfredo being in the mix), among them my friend Patrick who rather enthusiastically pitched a playtest session of Tactical Ops, a design-in-progress by Alessandro “Hasimir” Piroddi (who wasn’t there). While I wasn’t particularly grabbed by the premise of the game, some were, and being a curious fellow I tagged along. Small-squad tactics for dangerous missions is, if we read it to mean military/commando operations, the single most overdone thing in the history of role-playing games (I’m of course conflating most flavors of D&D into this) – but, on the other hand, I thought the description could also apply to caper/heist movies (a vague itch I still have to scratch). In fact, the playtest document Patrick had with him came (as far and I can tell) with absolutely no example situation, mission or backdrop included besides the core premise. We soon enough agreed on a twenty-minutes-into-the-future prison break scenario, then proceeded to create our characters: a much lengthier process than was immediately apparent by glancing at the character sheets. I didn’t keep track of the time, really, but I figure we spent a minimum of two hours doing pre-play setup.
So, here’s my shout out to Alessandro, the designer: while not a faulty design choice per se (one can sure invest a much longer time preparing for a multi-session campaign), such a long setup process is unacceptable in a convention environment! If you want to have your game playtested at public events (or, well, out-of-house playtested at all, I might add), may I suggest you release a fast-play package, consisting of one or more example missions with pre-made characters? If I were you, I’d make it my first priority at the moment.
During the prep phase, our motley group seemed to easily agree on things – everybody generally cheered at ideas being thrown around, making the brainstorming/pitch a breeze. But! I think the character creation process – with its attributes and skill groups and skills and specialties to rate, plus advantages and motivational links to “buy” – looked deceptively familiar to all of us, which either got us to pay attention to the wrong things or to not pay attention at all. We should have been paying attention to what each other player was picking out of the available choices! In hindsight, that’s pretty obvious, but in the heat of the moment we just self-tagged with role-definitions (“hacker”, “doctor”, “gearhead”, “muscles”, “face”, “infiltrator”) and hurried up to each fill up one’s own character sheet, in isolation. Had I payed attention, I would have noticed that the “infiltrator” was duplicating part of the “face”-guy’s and (IIRC) “muscles”-guy’s skillsets, not maxing up the athletics/movement skills I incorrectly assumed he were (a skillset nobody focused on at all); that while I was hyper-specializing my hacker guy to be exactly that, some others were spreading their skillpoints wider, for example to be ready for violence in case of a major shit-up; that the “gearhead” was a specialist in jury-rigging veichles which no character was good at operating anyway, and so on. It is thus my humble opinion that as a “team” we were already fucked, whatever the mission. Not that we were going to find out, anyway…
Having gone through all of the preparations, and of course some more necessary rules-briefing as well, we went then into the first actual scene of the game knowing we weren’t going to play the mission to its end anyway, because of our real-life time constraints. This being not what we had been assuming initially (before prep) I daresay we were now in maybe the worst possible collective mood for role-playing: the noncommittal, half-assed one. And that’s when our group’s collective ability to agree on things – this basic foundation of role-playing – began to falter. Having framed a first scene, we started dabbling in the game’s central authority/credibility system of stating “facts”, but I don’t believe we had fully understood it, let alone grasped its subtleties, as we launched into a conflict. Of the conflict, we played a single round at most, struggling with the fact that – in our lack of experience with the system – we had not properly set the parameters of it to match the developing fiction, nor had we picked mechanical categories for our actions that significantly reflected our combinations of fictional intents while giving us a chance to hit the difficulty treshold, no. Very quickly, our game devolved into a debriefing session of the sort which consists in micro-analyzing small bits of the game without having seen the full picture – which was absolutely pointless, the designer not being there and nobody being apparently committed to write a playtest report.
To those who asked my opinion on Tactical Ops as a design, the only honest anwer I could give was: I’ve seen too little of it to form any opinion whatsoever, sorry.

The City of Fire and Coin (Swords Without Master)* — here’s another game which went quite poorly, but not for any defect of design. I had assembled a team of people I love and I know are in love with the (pulp/fantasy) genre – Ariele, Lapo & Tazio – and they took to the game with all of the glee I expected; still, everybody was apparently exhausted by the too much play they’d already had (or maybe with too much food and drink?) and soon my friends’ focus waned. Thus to my great displeasure we had to call it quits, having only played out the first Perilous Phase.
This was to be considered a playtest, not of the game-design, but of the technique of exposition (the way of “teaching” the game) embodied in The City of Fire and Coin, a learn-while-you-play tutorial written in a hybrid rulebook/gamebook style somewhat comparable to the “red box” Basic D&D set of the Eighties. While appearing well-devised on first sight, such tutorial proved way too verbose to read – and translate to Italian on the fly – while playing: sitting through the long passages of read-aloud instructions encouraged Rogue players, as a reaction, to hog the spotlight longer and go for longer talking times in the first Perilous Phase, which proved to be an interest-killer in the end, as the scene (as framed by a read-aloud box in the text itself) consisted of a street brawl with little context or emotional attachment to it. I suspect, despite an apparent interest the players showed in depicting action stunts, that had they made short work of that first Storm instead we would therefore have retained interest in the game well into the following phases.
All things considered, I walked away with a strong commitment to try again as soon as possible – which in fact happened already as of the time I’m writing this report! I won’t discuss my second game here, though, as it will become material for a follow-up post.

Ganakagok* — I’ve been in love with Ganakagok at least since the one full game of it I had a couple years ago. I’m well aware of the polemics surrounding the game’s subject-matter (Bill White was exeedingly naïve in his exotical treatment of elements from living cultures, and consequent blatant misuse of the word “Inuit”, which is something he himself later acknowledged) and my own ambivalence about the affair means I’ve had to develop my own language for explaining the game’s world as fantasy and only referencing real-world cultures in what I’m convinced (as a culture historian) to be a completely respectful way – but that’s part and parcel of dealing with fantasy fiction as a genre, anyway, and come on: instances of fantasy fiction which break out of too oft-repeated, paradigmatic, stupid molds are as needed and welcome as they can be (in gaming especially)! My love of Ganakagok, anyway, is first and foremost a love of its mechanics: suggestive card-reading coupled with some moderately complex resource management (and resource-tracking, which makes actions full of consequences, some of them unintended): it is by far the one title which had greater influence on my own design-in-progress, I reietti di Eden.
The game I ran at EtrusCon wasn’t stellar, maybe, but I felt it was good enough. We couldn’t play it to a proper ending, sadly, but we were so close. I was, in fact, disappointed to learn that what had been a half-full glass to me was instead a half-empty one to my fellow players (my dear Barbara and Daniele Lostia of Piombo fame). I’m not sure, of course, whether it is at all possible, or recommended, to play a game of Ganakagok with only two non-GM players present: maybe we had set ourselves up for a failure since the very onset?
One critique from Daniele which I think is especially poignant is that we had prepped so many elements in the immediate pre-game setup (world/village creation) which didn’t actually get reincorporated. In the moment I couldn’t but agree, but now, with a clearer head, I see the glass as half-full again: sure, we had more prepped elements available than we actually needed to use, as a side-effect of prep being a very organic process, but we did use some of those elements, and built and expanded on the ones we picked (also an organic process, as we focused on the ones we most needed in the moment), which obviously constrained and strongly directed our play – while on the other hand all those unused elements, while never incorporated in the actual scenes, still existed as a backdrop which informed play, and we never forgot nor invalidated them. Prep, in other words, always informs play, even when pieces of prepped content don’t actively come out during it.
On an unrelated note: next time I play Ganakagok, I’m considering dropping the Body/Face/Mind/Soul section of the character sheets entirely, using instead a fixed value of “3” in lieu of those scores for all purposes. Besides scores of “2” being a bit too punishing to be fun, my point is that your average player-character is only expected to be in the spotlight once or twice. Having four different “arenas of conflict” with different (and hugely important) ratings attached, then, needlessly punishes a player for open-mindedness, as the obvious optimal strategy would be to set one of your arenas at “4” and maneveur so that your own spotlight scene(s) focus on that: a boring exercise in predictability, rather than in storytelling. Gifts and Burdens should fully suffice to make characters distinct in competence, instead, especially as character Identity is also a trait with mechanical usefulness attached.

Overall, EtrusCon was an extremely diversity-rich environment, with happy and satisfied people enthusiastically playing things as diverse as OD&D/Lamentations of the Flame Princess and abstract board-games, Joe Mcdaldno’s Monsterhearts (which is an Apocalypse World-based rpg about the coming of age of metaphorically-monstrous teenagers) and Paolo Guccione’s homebrew game of tabletop battles between Go Nagai’s giant robots which is an adaptation of old Chaosium Basic Role-Playing (!). Tazio Bettin, Iacopo Frigerio, Davide Losito, Matteo Turini, Marco Valtriani all ran playtest sessions of their own designs besides the numerous foreign games played.
Some games, of course, struck me as more interesting than others; some I heartfeltly avoided, and when invited to play I declined. In the light of which, I can’t help but turn and look back over my own shoulder, realizing that an 18-years-old me – for example – would have merrily sat down at the BRP Mecha table (calling dibs on Getter Robot, probably) while not even paying a thought to the Lamentations table which these days, instead, I was very much tempted to join. And the reasons I didn’t choose to play LotFP in the end, those are the complete opposite of why I wouldn’t have joined an OD&D table if you asked me when I was, say, 25. All of the above is part due to how changed the landscape of role-playing is since previous times, sure, and part because of how changed I am myself.
Thus, the single most important thing I got from EtrusCon is not merely an appreciation of diversity within a small but fluid scene: it’s an enhanced understanding of my own tastes concerning role-playing games – of what I like and dislike and what I really look for and what I’m actually in it for – and of how mutable those preferences are.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

La bevanda delle sere d'estate

In un bicchiere da 0,5 l (per esempio un bicchiere da pinta di birra o da media) versare nell'ordine:
  • ghiaccio a piacere (facoltativo),
  • un dito di maraschino,
  • da 25 a 33 cl di chinotto,
  • il succo di mezzo limone.
Mescolare brevemente con un cucchiaino lungo. Sorseggiare davanti al proprio PC.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ability scores: roll #d6, some of them in order

That which follows is a method of Ability scores determination for use – during character creation – with any role-playing game employing six Abilities with scores in the 3-18 range. This includes all iterations of D&D I know about, retro-clones or other immediate derivatives of them, as well as Dungeon World and some others. The method can also be altered for a different number of Abilities or scores in a different range, of course.
My aim with this is to marry the “organic” feel of the roll-3d6-in-order method with some of the most desirable qualities of roll-and-arrange and fixed-set methods (namely, the ability to play the class you desire, to always have a character you can make sense of in your mind’s eye, and less power-disparity within the party).

Rafu’s matrix method

First you need to draw a grid of three columns by six rows. Outside the grid scribble the Abilities used in your game, one per row. It looks like this:







STEP 1: roll 6d6. Write the results in the first column, arranging them as you wish.

STEP 2: in the second column, write the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, arranged as you wish.

STEP 3: for the third column, roll 1d6 per row and write down the results in order.

Finally, total up each row to get your Ability scores.

Example: I'm playing OD&D. I roll underwhelming dice in Step #1 (4, 4, 3, 2, 2, 1), but I decide I'm gonna try and make this character a Cleric — a hardy and survivable, no-nonsense knight-templar type. Dice are kinder to me in Step #3.
 = 5
 = 6


  • If you like to use formal rules for “unplayable” characters, to establish when a player’s allowed to reroll, try devising some based on Step #1 (only): this saves everybody’s time. Something like: “if you got two or more 1s and/or your best die is a 4, you’re allowed to reroll”.
  • If you want a more uniform power-level, and/or to make any one point of difference very meaningful (a flatter distribution):
    • for Step #1, roll 8d6 then drop highest and lowest die (or even 10d6 drop 2 highest and 2 lowest, etc.);
    • for Step #3, roll 3d6 and keep the median value (drop high and low) instead of 1d6.
  • For a different number of Abilities (five scores, seven scores, etc.) you need to both:
    • roll nd6 in Step #1 where n is the number of Abilities;
    • alter the array of numbers in Step #2 by removing or adding (duplicating) values starting from the middle ones (3s and 4s): thus an array for an 8-Abilites game could be “1,2,3,3,4,4,5,6”, one for a 4-Abilities game is “1,2,5,6”.
  • To generate Ability scores in a 2-12 range (Epées & Sorcellerie, World of Dungeons):
    • skip Step #1;
    • for Step #3, either:
      • use the 3d6-keep-median roll, or
      • repeat Step #3 twice, writing down both sets of results, then choose one (a whole set, not row-by-row).


I originally devised this method back in my 3E days, out of a desire to introduce some controlled randomness, but never got to put it to any real use. I wouldn’t use it for a 4E game, because it doesn’t fit with the small-squad tactics optimization those rules finally canonized as the “official” style of play, IMO. But in the present era of Old-School Renaissance, widely available OD&D retro-clones and free-licensed, D&D-themed Apocalypse World hacks… I believe there is now room and even demand for little house-rules like this to be circulated.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Monthly wrap-up: not much to see here

June was my slowest month, game-wise, since a very long time. No big surprise: I was hugely busy doing other things. Since that On Mighty Thews game I already wrote about, I've only been playing a pithy few scenes of Remember Tomorrow. Tune in again in a month for something more substantial.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Dungeon World", my own way

So, Dungeon World is, basically, using the rules from Apocalypse World to recreate the world of Dungeons & Dragons, right? Then, if I designed Dungeon World, here's what the playbooks would be:
  • The Adventurer — you go dungeon-delving for fame and fortune; the exact way you kill monsters (sword-fighting, spell-casting, arrow-shooting, god-invoking, back-stabbing, shape-shifting, kung-fu, etc.) depends on the options you take from the playbook.
  • The First-leveler — you're young and eager and you wish you were as cool as the Adventurer: survive long enough and that may happen.
  • The Leader — of an adventuring party (a small, but very powerful, gang).
  • The Henchman (not gender-exclusive: you can be a henchwoman, henchqueerperson, etc.) — you earn your living by being around adventurers a lot.
  • The Mayor — could be a council leader, town elder or whatever, and they're sort of like the Hardholder, in that they're responsible for a town and her citizens, probably with a militia to wield for that purpose.
  • The Baron — you control land and a manor, possibly an actual castle, and lead an armed gang of violent people; also Hardholder-ish, but compared with the Mayor you've got different responsibilities and loyalties.
  • The Merchant — a barkeeper, innkeeper or shopkeeper, possibly a craftsman like a weaponsmith, you've got an establishment sort of like a Maestro'D's.
  • The Thief — comes with a guild, but with no warrant that the guild is their friend.
  • The Wizard — not your average adventuring wizard (we've got that covered already), but the kind of wizard who owns a wizard's tower; optionally, your tower may include a dungeon.
  • The Sellsword — you fight for coin and kill for a living; maybe you've got your own mercenary gang of which you're the captain, or maybe you're a solitary assassin from some dark cult.
And here's a basic move:
When you go adventuring in a dungeon with your brave fellows, roll +a currently highlighted stat. On a 10+ choose 3, on a 7-9 choose 2:
  • you are not wounded
  • you didn't use up rare or valuable provisions (such as magic item charges, a potion…)
  • you didn't give your adventuring fellows +1Hx with you
  • you got a rich loot
  • you got an even richer loot
  • you gained a useful magic item
  • you gained a powerful magic item
  • you gained a permanent magic item
  • bards are singing of your deeds
On a failure, you are stymied during your adventure, and the MC will zoom in to that situation, showing you being cornered, embattled, imprisoned, hunted, perplexed by a puzzle, or worse.

— § —

Now, the serious part. Please, don't think that the point of the above is to slander the real DW for not focusing on the aspects of D&D (or AW) that I right in this moment I'm thinking are more funny. Rather, I meant to illustrate a point I recently made on Lumpley's blog concerning player-vs-player conflicts in AW. Well, or maybe the joke pulled my leg and it became an end in itself.