Playing ViewScream

As there weren’t enough players for Haralds planned bi-weekly Labyrinth Lord game, he decided to run ViewScream instead. ViewScream, which is just now running the Kickstarter for the 2nd Edition, is a game that is explicitly designed to be played via videochat.

Rafael Chandler is surely no „Indie Author“ anymore, although his RPG products probably get lumped into that category. But he is a brilliant horror game designer if you ask me – and ViewScream, which plays on the isolation and despair of people sitting alone somewhere, reaching out to their colleagues for help, is an even more brilliant idea. The general mechanic is this: Everyone is alone, connected to the others via videochat. And everyone has at least one, maybe even more dire Emergency at hand, that is threatening their lives, and that they cannot solve by themselves. Your only hope for rescue? Someone else has to use up one of their Solutions (basically one or two sentences of technobabble that the game providesto you) and apply that to your problem.

In our game, each of us had three Solutions and two Emergencies – the kicker being, that not all of those solutions would actually work! None of your fellow players know how many Solutions you actually have, nor which of those will be successful: There are small indicators next to every Solution, telling you if they would work or not. So you pick a solution, narrate how you’d apply them, and then, more often than not, let the other players know that, alas, they weren’t working for some reason or the other… or that they were saved, because the solution did work. But the game is actually rigged in a way, that there usually are more Emergencies than workable Solutions. Enter the haggling, backstabbing, pleading and outright begging!

Yesterday, Harald threw us into some cyberpunk world, where we were just returning from what was supposed to be an easy-in, easy-out hack into some virtual world. Except it went horribly wrong, we probably had a traitor in our midst, the enforcers were on our asses, our equipment sprouted the most disturbing bugs and the clock was ticking…

About halfway through the game (which took about an hour), I realized that my character wouldn’t make it. So I let the virtual ghost that was riding my system take over and scare the bejeebus out of my fellow players, who were so eager to sacrifice me for their own sakes…

(The girlfriend was reading in the room next to me and later stated that she was on the verge of calling an excorcist to get those demons out of me.)

In the end, this was the most fun I ever had in a Hangout RPG session. The game provides custom overlays that enhance the mood, and the game mechanics are as close to freeform as you can get – while still providing enough structure and crunch to make things interesting on that angle.

The different characters are described in a gender-neutral and just vague enough way that basically everyone can fill those roles. But they are also provided with hooks and connections to each other to keep the game running and interesting. ViewScream encourages you to never leave character during gameplay, and as you never need to grab some dice or do anything that isn’t covered by the narrative, things feel very natural.

The first edition (with slightly clunkier rules) is free on DriveThruRPG, and the 2nd Edition is 10 bucks well spent on Kickstarter. If you are even remotely interested in playing a Horror game or in playing over videochat, you want to try this out!

breaking in and stealing shit..

There is a special spot reserved in my heart for Heist and in extension Grifter movies. I’m not sure why this is, but people breaking in to places with skill and gumption fills me with a warm and fuzzy excitement (Even if it is done in a rather silly way, as with the Olsenbande).

So… Ant Man. This is a Heist movie thinly disguised as a superhero action flick.

As a superhero action flick, it works nicely. Of course there are is the mandatory climactic battle scene, and it is a good one. But in the end, there are really only two „battle scenes“ – the obligatory superheroes-meet-for-the-first-time one, and the big fight with the villain.

But, for a superhero flick, all that is a surprisingly small amount of fighting. Instead we get (apart from chase scenes) quite a few scenes that highlight Scott Langs skills as a burglar. And the staple of any heist movie: Training Montages (seriously, about half the „action scenes“ we see is how Scott learns how to wear the Ant Man suit, how to run with his new miniscule allies, etc.)  and Caper Planning.  The inclusion of Scotts wannabe partners in crime is not just used as a source of comic relief but also helps establishing the „Heist“ aspect of the movie even firmer.

And as a Heist/Caper movie, Ant Man really delivers. You have the planning, the training, the near-flawless execution, good music, the easy talk among the team, the surprising things that go wrong, a reveal from the villain, all the little bits that make this sort of movie fun.

If you haven’t seen it, check out your local theatres right now!


Warum ich immer noch Perry Rhodan lese…

Japp, genau, diese Schundheftchen, die es jede Woche am Kiosk gibt. Lese ich seit bestimmt 25 Jahren, wenn nicht schon länger. Klar, die Variationen der Handlung sind überschaubar, viele Figuren eher holzschnittartig. Und grob gesehen ist jeder Handlungsbogen gleich:

  • Eine neue Sorte Aliens taucht auf
  • diese Aliens überziehen die Galaxie mit einem Konflikt
  • Die Helden fliegen los um die Herkunft und Absichten der Aliens zu erkunden
  • Die Erkundung gelingt, allerdings nur haarscharf
  • Mit den Ergebnissen gelingt die Rettung der Menschheit oder gar des Universums in allerletzter Sekunde

Also, warum lese ich diesen „Schund“? Zum einen aus Gewohnheit. Das ist halt ein liebgewonnenes Ritual, und mein Vater freut sich immer, wenn ich ihm alle paar Monate den ausgelesenen Heftstapel gebe.

Zum anderen aber aus einem ganz anderen Grund: Diese Serie behandelt zwar oberflächlich gesehen immer wieder nur Alieninvasionen in unterschiedlichsten Varianten, darunter geht es aber um etwas anders: Ein Ringen um den, ich nenne es mal salopp „darwinistisch erfolgreichsten“ Gesellschaftsentwurf. Jeder neu auftretende oder wieder verwurstete Antagonist bringt stets eine eigene Philosophie mit.

Diese wird eigentlich immer auch aus der Innenansicht beschrieben, also sozusagen wohlwollend erklärt. Natürlich haben alle diese Invasoren auch immer etwas schurkenhaftes, schließlich soll Perry ja am Ende als strahlender Held dastehen. Aber so ganz schwarzweiß wird eben doch nicht gemalt. Und häufig genug werden Teile der Invasoren in die galaktische Gemeinschaft aufgenommen. Und diese Gemeinschaft ist äußerst vielschichtig und -seitig.

Dieser Wettstreit von Gesellschaftsentwürfen ist sicherlich nicht das Hauptthema der Serie. Aber er ist immer dabei, und das Ergebnis steht, abgesehen von einem die Serie durchdringenden Humanismus, nie so richtig fest. Es gibt wohlwollende Diktatoren, radikal-direkte Demokratien, parlamentarische Demokratien, Oligarchien, Meritokratien, Tyrannen, Völker in Symbiose, Schmarotzer, Einzelgänger, Anarchien, Gesellschaften, die auf dem Recht des Stärkeren beruhen, und und und.

Das ist es, was mich trotz aller Widrigkeiten (teilweise sind die Plots eben doch flacher als die norddeutsche Tiefebene) bei der Stange hält: Diese breite Palette an Utopien und Gesellschaftsentwürfen, gepaart mit einem humanistischen Optimismus, dass die Menschheit sich positiv weiterentwickeln kann und will.

Welcome Home..

Those were more or less the first words that were shouted at us, when we all left the bus. For more than just a few, it was really a homecoming, but for me it was more the reassurance that I would be welcomed here, in this dusty, colourful and surprisingly loud place near Sarinam, that place called Nowhere.

I’ve been fascinated with Burner festivals since I read that Burning Man writeup in the Wired all those years ago in the late nineties. A festival in the desert? A place where everyone is accepted, where money is not a thing? To experience things in the moment, and then not leaving a physical trace afterwards? Not to mention all that art, either as objects or performance.

Anyway, when I learned that there isn’t just Burning Man, but a whole subculture of Burner festivals all over the globe, with one of these happening in the relative european neighbourhood, my plan was fixed: I would go there, and see things for myself!

And that is why, two weeks ago, I found myself in a dry riverbed valley, being greeted by half-naked hippies and throwing myself into the dust, making a very hot and dry and dusty snow angel. I was determined to be accepting and in-the-moment, come hell or high water!

What I got was heat, dust, techno music and two thousand loving hippies. Which was at the same time exactly what I expected, and also not at all what I was prepared for.

Let me say this: If you are even a mildly extrovert person, and if you don’t have a passionate hatred for all things Techno, this is the event you should experience at least once in your life. If you are more like me, an introvert person with a more than passing dislike for all things that go UNZ-UNZ-UNZ, then you should still go, but prepare yourself a bit better than I did.

Because Nowhere is exhausting. Physically, on account of all the heat, mentally, because your senses will be constantly blasted with new and exiting things, and emotionally, as you will be warmly greeted as soon as you show up, but can also be completely ignored and feel invisible from the moment on you start drawing back into your shell.

This is not something malicious, but probably not quite by accident either: The strong ethos of acceptance, consent and tolerance ensures that if you see someone doing whatever, your instinct isn’t: „oh, that is horrible, I should stop them doing that!“ but rather „Hmm, not my idea of fun, but they know themselves best, right?“

So, fellow introverts, if you go there, be aware that you need to communicate rather strongly and insistently. Then people will happily take you along to all the weird and fun things.

And boy, there were weird and fun things happening at Nowhere. Personally, I’ve officiated a wedding at this temple, celebrated christmas, listened to the story of the demon hostel of Montenegro, slept on a heap of pillows in the middle of an ongoing party, danced through the night, succombed to a hippie trap, learned how to give better massages and had a great time for most of the trip.

All in all, I was utterly unprepared for what happened to me there. And I’m not sure I’ll ever be…