Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Cells, S01E04 Scene 1

This is an actual play report from the PTA game I've been playing in for the last year or so. Steve Dee posted play summaries for the first few episodes before he had to bow out. But since then there haven't been any updates. So I'm going to try and pick up the baton and continue the story. Enjoy.

Spotlight character: None for this episode.

The camera pans in above Citadel and focuses on a long black car with a military escort ahead and behind. It's the hearse, carrying the body of Quiver, to a place of contemplation for the Path. It's a neo-modernist pagoda, scattered with reflecting pools. The coffin is painted in four different colours to represent the four elements of the Path. In older times the body would have been quartered; today it's much more symbolic. Ultra-conservative sects appoint someone from the family to cut the body up with a bonesaw, but not here in this civilised place. Gathered for the ceremony are the council members and other dignitaries.

Agent Quiver

Zach is in a pinstripe suit. Hal stands with his wife, Kate. He's again refusing to wear his military uniform, especially for the funeral of the man who was sleeping with his wife. Attendees are wearing tokens or sashes of red, the colour of mourning. Lazarus wears the red of civic government, not the red of the Path. Political commentators notice the difference, but the general public doesn't care for him.

It is, of course, raining.

Knightfather Roland, though present, does not lead the service. Rather, Cardinal Templeton delivers all the necessary pomp. He tells a lovely story and draws everyone in, but the focus is not on Quiver. As he speaks about duty and honour, Kate starts shaking beside Hal, a mere fraction from losing it. Hal puts his arm around her to offer comfort.

Zach has come prepared, however, and secretly presses a valium into Kate's palm. She's initially surprised but realises that she needs this. Discretely she "blows her nose" and pops the pill. Hal's gesture is missed. He reaches out to support her but she turns away. Hal is left looking awkward.

The Cardinal comes to the end of his speech, claiming that the world is darker for Quiver's passing. Hal keeps a stony face throughout. The ceremony ends, the press take photos, and the coffin presented to the four pools. Mourners throw rose petals onto the canal as it draws the coffin away. The service ends and the people begin to move on towards the wake.

Before he can make his way there, the media approach Zach and ask him for comment. "Quiver was a good man. He meant well with every one of his actions. I have nothing more to say." Ever the media focus, they then seem more interested in who made his suit and the questions become more inane.

The press descend on Hal and Kate. "Captain Hal, how do you feel about losing a key support in the council's infrastructure? Will the council be able to move forward and do anything meaningful with this terrible loss?"

He replies, "It is a setback but the council has been chosen to be able to approach obstacles from a number of angles and we will find a way forward." They lap it up; the words of a war hero. Hal seizes on the opportunity and says that the council will continue to work with the military and the General, but saying it in a way that casts the tiniest doubt on the intentions of the military.

Avoiding the media, Lazarus heads directly towards the main entrance. An unassuming man in a grey suit sidles up to him, puts him arm around Lazarus' shoulder and guides him to one side, giving Lazarus no option but to go with him. Lazarus complies. The man shows him an ID badge from Global. "So you've lost Quiver. What now?"

"We need a replacement. One who is quick and effective. There's a lot we need to do but we can't cut through the nonsense."

"We can take care of that. This city needs to get itself back in order. We need to be shown to be in complete control after this. Just because Quiver managed the fiasco out the front of Central doesn't change the fact that you're all in a precarious position right now."

"Could you get somebody with fewer personal problems this time? Perhaps someone who can keep it in his pants?"

"You know, I've got just the man."

"Good. Send me a brief," says Lazarus. "Next, we need to accelerate the technological advances in order to feed the people. The people here are unruly and need to be pacified. They need food and need to feel as though we are listening. We need a cultural event. One where the people are free to express what life is like after the white , without breaking rules of which side they were on and who we fought for. Just allow them to be... edgy. Let them feel as though they are criticising us. Keep them a little happy."

"Redirect them? Is that what you're saying?"

"Yes. While we can do the more important things."

"Mr Moore, I think we're going to be able to work together well. We'll have a briefing for you within the hour, sir."

"I look forward to it. I'll see you back at Central."

"No. You won't."

Monday, 29 August 2016

I burned my D&D books

Once upon a time I was a fundamentalist Christian. The earth was only 6000 years old, Angels and Demons were invisible spirits doing the spiritual bidding of God and Satan, and we were living in the end times.

And I loved playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Somewhere deep inside, however, this couldn't last. Too many Jack Chick tracts. Too many sermons in the dangers of this and the peril my soul was in. The devil was in those D&D books and they were the reason I wasn't pure.

So I burned them.

A Players Handbook, a Dungeons Masters Guide, an Unearthed Arcana, an Oriental Adventures, and some Greyhawk campaign material. They all went into the flames.

To my surprise they burned with multi-coloured flames jetting out of the covers. It was the colour of spirits being tormented! They fled those books and went back to their dark lord.

My parents were upset that I was destroying expensive books. My church youth pastor was happy for me.

These days, however, I wish I'd kept them. Partly because I'm something of a collector. All those pop culture conventions and stores nudge me towards my wallet. Also, partly because I'd like to play them again. I know it's an older edition, but the nostalgia play is powerful.

It'd also be cheaper than buying the latest edition. :)

I remember some of the artwork from those books. There was one picture on the same page as the cavalier that always stood out to me, as well as a paladin fighting through demons.

Maybe I'll find a D&D game a convention somewhere and sit in for a session. Maybe that will scratch the itch.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Paper Craft Games

Our house has become something of a paper craft design centre.

My kids have started making board games full of 3D elements. I think they like making the games more than playing the games. 

This is a recent example. It's a roll-and-move game with no title. The goal is to get home (the little house in the corner) and it's full of exception rules that aren't known when we start playing. 

"You need the sword to do that."

"If you land here you pick up a card."

"You have to roll the exact number to land on the house."

Like I said, I didn't know any of these rules when we started playing. They just come up in play.

That's what it feels like playing some games with adults too. Some games have a few core rules that are easy to convey to new players, and then are followed up with truckloads of exceptions and addenda.

"But if you have the gem card and your team mate is in the blue sector, then you can't launch the missiles."

Honestly, I feel like I've played that game before. It's probably some nine hour board game with dice, cards, and a cult following. 

What's all this about? Why am I talking about the games that junior school children make? I'm making a plea to game developers. Don't make your game opaque. People want to play your game. If it's complex, fine, but find a way to communicate the exceptional nature of the rules to players. 

I guess there's also a responsibility for people explaining games to new players. Don't surprise them with rules exceptions. It's bewildering. I accept it from my kids because they're in junior school and still figuring things out. I don't want to accept it from adults. 

Ok, enough preaching. The other outcome from all this was my kids' first dungeon crawl. They seemed keen on playing something with a dragon and swords so I hastily cobbled something together.

I sketched a map, made some quick rules, and they made the scenery. Ok, so it was just the cage for the dragon. 

Anyway, they were two heroes - a wizard and a warrior - who were going to rescue their friend the dragon. I geared it around the typical crescendo model. First encounters are small with a reward that can be used later. Later encounters are tough boss fights. 

All the rules were written (fairly sparsely) on two pages, with a map on the third. See, I'm taking my own medicine about rules clarity.

And after all that, they enjoyed it! One of them tried hard not to smile. The other one asked to play it again straight away. 

"It's better than all the other games we made today, dad!"

Achievement unlocked. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Cheap but good advice for gaming in a group

I know a few musicians. One of them posted a piece of advice from Chick Corea and it makes good sense for story games too.

The earliest reference I could find to the origin of the advice was here. I thought about re-writing it to address it to the gamer, but then I remembered how smart you all are. Take his musical advice and riff off it.

1) Play only what you hear.

2) If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything.

3) Don’t let your fingers and limbs just wander - place them intentionally.

4) Don’t improvise on endlessly - play something with intention, develop it or not, but then end off, take a break.

5) Leave space - create space - intentionally create places where you don’t play.

6) Make your sound blend. Listen to your sound and adjust it to the rest of the band and the room.

7) If you play more than one instrument at a time - like a drum kit or multiple keyboards - make sure they are balanced with one another.

8) Don’t make any of your music mechanically or just through patterns of habit. Create each sound, phrase and piece with choice - deliberately.

9) Guide your choice of what to play by what you like - not by what someone else will think.

10) Use contrast to balance the elements;
high - low
fast - slow
loud - soft
tense - relaxed
dense - sparse

11) Play to make the other musicians sound good. Play things that will make the overall music sound good.

12) Play with a relaxed body. Always release whatever tension you create.

13) Create space - begin, develop and end phrases with intention.

14) Never beat or pound your instrument - play it easily and gracefully.

15) Create space - then place something in it.

16) Use mimicry sparsely - mostly create phrases that contrast with and develop the phrases of other players.

Beautiful stuff.


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