Indie in Bielefeld

I’m sitting at home, having just returned from the regular gaming meetup in Bielefeld. While I did pack but not play Dusk City Outlaws, I did get to play two other games: The Skeletons by Jason Morningstar and Thorny Games' Dialect.

Both games are very much focused on story and emotions, less about high adventures, so this meetup has again been very much thematic for me. (There was a DSA 4.1 game that I was invited to, but, let’s say, even though I like the GM a lot, this isn't my cup of tea.)

So, what are these things about?

The Skeletons has the players all gather as undead guardians of a hidden tomb. The game asks them to map out the tomb together, to come up with the little details that give it a history.

And then watches on, as there are repeated incursions into the sacred stillness. Grave robbers, adventurers, monsters and others seek out the tomb, and the skeletons have to deal with them, rediscovering their own identities and memories while doing so.

A very fun game, but we sadly did not unlock it’s full potential. One reason was that the game got constantly interrupted, so we couldn’t really establish a flow. None of the interruptions were malicious (we got cake, new arrivals at the meetup wanted to say hi, and of course everything got paused when the infant kid of one of the players got carried in with a very nasty bruise on the forehead.), but a game that tries very much to evoke a feeling of loneliness and time passing suffers greatly from that.

The other was a result of this being our first time to play this game: The tomb we made was small. Basically one big room with just one corridor entering it. That way the skeletal guardians confronted each and every incursion in basically just one short encounter, not allowing for a lot of roleplay in those moments.

On top of that, I realized the actual point one probably should drive at only after the game ended, so the players felt a lack of agency. Discovering and making use of ones own personality should be much more important.

Still, I recommend this game a lot.

Dialect is a meta-game, similar to Microscope, but instead of a deep history, this game has you develop a language. It comes in a rather thick hardcover, gorgeously illustrated and also hands you a bunch of cards with prompts. All of this enables you to form a tightly knitted group that has somehow isolated themselves from the rest of society — and thus forms their own language.

We had a merry band of gentleman thieves in early 19th century Hamburg that surely but slowly moved towards their downfall. In that time we invented slang that defines our marks, our celebrations and our hierarchy and actions. We saw how words slowly took on different, meaner definitions, as we moved from high stake cons to simply robbing and murdering people.

The phrase „before the cellar“, which we used to have as a code to reference our lofty gentlemanly standards became a curseword and then evolved into „to cellar someone“, a euphemism for plain murder. In the end, the cellar was all we had, and when our fearless leader walked up to the hangmans noose, her last words were „no one sings in the cellar“, refusing to give up her partners in crime.

A great game, one that I cannot wait to play again.

Horror in Bielefeld

I spent the last weekend at a semi-regular gaming meetup. The beauty of this thing is that while it does host more than a few dozen people, but all of them are invited known persons. Friends and family one could say.

Blechpirat and me usually use this gathering to playtest the more different games we find. This time, the candidates were Ten Candles and Bluebeard's Bride. (And then there was a Dresden Files game that was full of vengeful pirate ghosts, so the horror theme was thoroughly observed :) )

Both, Ten Candles and Bluebeard’s Bride are games where the characters can’t really win. Even more so than a Cthulhu game, where the PCs usually are at least able to avert the apocalypse for now. Both of these games will end badly, period.

Ten Candles says so very clear on the tin: When the last of the ten candles on the table is extinguished, all characters will die, no way out of it. This is a game that tries to tell a story of hope and light in the face of utter darkness and hopelessness. And it does so quite well, at least most of the time. The player characters are stranded in a sea of darkness, clinging to the light that promises survival.

The titular ten candles are actually lit on the game table. One by one they will get extinguished whenever the players fail on a dice roll. If that happens, the current scene is ended and the narrator cuts to the next one, made bleaker and less hopeful by that failed roll. But the players get to narrate facts for the next scene, one for each candle still burning. These facts can be positive, but they don’t have to…

Apart from the gimmick with the actual candles on the table, the game offers a really interesting mechanic: During character creation, you create a small stack of traits and moments. Each of these is written on a small piece of paper, and these are then actually stacked on top of each other.

Literally burning one of these will give you a small bonus, but you can only burn the one that is right on top of the stack. So the order you stack these becomes important during gameplay.

Pro-tip: If you prep for the game, hand out papers that include the prompts and the mechanic that kicks in when burning. It’s something that is easily forgotten or confused during gameplay and having it right there will surely help.

The other thing to realise, especially for the person running the game, is that at some point, most tests the players roll will fail. And failing a test will not only progress the game by ending the scene, but also make the next one even harder. So choose the moments for these tests wisely, otherwise your game will speed up towards the end on autopilot during the last four candles or so.

But those are miner nitpicks: If you like to buy in to the „everyone will die“ premise, Ten Candles is a very fine and quite atmospheric game. And even scenes that got cut short within the first 20 seconds managed to convey a good sense of bleak dread and despair, precisely by being cut off before any real hope can surface. One example of our session was when the drifting yacht briefly bumped onto the pylon of an oil rig, only to drift away into the darkness right away…

Bluebeard’s Bride is quite another kind of horror. It is more personal, even intimate. Instead of several people, the players each pick one aspect of the Brides personality. During character creation they establish how the Bride thinks and feels and the narrator (called Groundskeeper by the game) is encouraged to mine these things, to use them against the Bride.

It is described as „feminine horror“, and it does indeed focus heavily on themes that are stereotypically feminine: How to cope with societies body standards, views on sexuality or body autonomy. Yes, these are sexist themes, but the point is to come to grips with that sexism, to see unfairness of it escalate into horror.

As Ten Candles, this is also a game where most of the story and challenges have to be created ad hoc during gameplay. And as the aim is to tailor these parts to the players, to address the things that make them shiver, I find it even more challenging with Bluebeard’s Bride to do so. It helps if one has a collection of set pieces at hand and the rulebook gives you plenty of examples and prompts.

Personally, I found it surprisingly hard to populate Bluebeard’s mansion with NPCs. The rooms were easy, but adding people into that creepy room, people that add to it instead of taking attention away was.. difficult. In the end, there was about a handful of them scattered through the house. As a result, the players didn’t get to make some of the moves, simply because there were less people to interact with.

Still, the game gives excellent prompts to add horror to basically any aspect of the setting and I got to see the players shiver a lot.

I’ve been…

…so many people over the past few days again, it was delicious. It was that time again, where a plethora of nerds descended upon the non-existent town of Bielefeld and gathered to eat, drink, be merry — and play games!

The food was delicious, the drinks came in just the right amounts and potency, the merriment filled the days but I guess what you really want to hear about are the games. Let me indulge you. I’ve been…

…a progressive alien species, trying to gain control of the galaxy during its second dawn. Alas, I could not make use of my extraordinary powers of research, as every attempt to expand my realm was thwarted by the vicious robotic remnants of the Ancients fleets. During most of the game I just held on to my meager three sectors, eking out some technological progress. Only once I managed to assemble a fleet and watched it get annihilated by the Ancients in a short but brutal fight. (Eclipse, Second Dawn of the Galaxy)

…a successful Unicorn Breeder, filling my stable with the most wondrous of creatures, scheming and plotting to bring misery to my fellow Unicorn enthusiasts, trying to be the first to fill all slots in my stable. A hilarious game, full of puns, innuendo, and most of all, unicorns! (Unstable Unicorns)

…a sailor, a pirate, no, a cultist, trying to direct the course of our ship to the chosen location. Covert collaborations with fellow pirates or cultists, mutinies, bluffing, and the occasional surreptitious changes to the logbooks steered our proud ship. And never did it reach the safe harbor of Bluewater Bay, but instead got fed to the Kraken or entered the dreaded pirate island… (Feed the Kraken)

…a greedy innkeeper, luring adventurers into a near-certain deathtrap. My cunning plan was to feed them to the naked-bear-thing I had chained to the dungeon below my humble establishment. But the motley crew of ne’er-do-wells and murder hobos managed to not only dispatch my minions and beasts, nay, they made off with all of my ill-gotten-riches and escape through the undersea on a magical obsidian rowboat. (The Undertavern, run with Into the Odd rules)

…Loddar, the DIY-King of YouTube, hiking through the black forest as part of a streamed challenge, with four other more or less well-known internet celebrities. Loddar, a cabinetmaker in retirement, gained internet-fame when his grandson filmed his antics testing how well the new rip-stop trousers would protect him against a chainsaw. Clueless about technology he now got thrust into a gaggle of youngsters who film themselves doing weird and (to Loddar) incomprehensible things for the sake of something called „Likes“, which he didn’t quite got. But his grandson said this was good stuff, and the likes would translate into income somehow, and Kevin knew computers after all. What followed was deliciously silly, full of drama and eventually even action, with high speed car chases and bullets flying everywhere! (a custom adventure with a d100 FATE derivative)

…an english industrial baron of the 19th century, building factories and transport links all across the Black Country, vying for domination through two distinct eras of early industrialization, seeing train tracks started to displace the narrow boat channels. A brainy but accessible game with glorious artwork and theme. (Brass Birmingham)

…Peter Rath, the holy sinner and bearer of the tome of 99 demons. A moderately famous fiction author, secretly a vampire of the White Court, Peter spent the past few years very privately, minding family and his own affairs. But the recent devastation of Berlin and the retirement of his sister from her office as head of the paranormal investigation unit drew him out of hiding once more. He joined a small task force trying to figure out what eerie things were responsible for recent oddities around the local cemeteries. Weird Pterodactydemons were fought, ancient religions uncovered and a long-term plan on keeping these forces of evil at bay became implemented. After an inspired lecture, Peter found himself the head of a new holy catholic order, secretly blessing places to protect them, and doing who-knows what else! (Dresden Files RPG)

…a middle-aged summer camp guide in the Midwest. She desperately needed a job, and found a lot more than expected, when she walked into the lone guy who squatted in one of the camp huts, hastily shoving something into a freezer. A few hours of increasingly bloody and campy fun and drama, topped by two women chainsawing a Wendigo into sausages. (Fiasko)

All in all an excellent few days, a fun NYE party and a welcome reminder of good friendships.

Von Hunden und (Wer-)Wölfen

Letztes Wochenende verbrachte ich (mal wieder) in Bielefeld um ausgiebig dem Hobby zu fröhnen.

Das schöne daran ist, dass ich immer wieder Systeme spielen kann, die ich vorher noch nur vom Hörensagen kannte. Dieses Jahr war das Dogs in the Vineyard.

Von Hunden…

Für diejenigen, die es nicht kennen: DitV ist eines der ersten Spiele die „Indie“-Rollenspiel bekannt gemacht haben. Man spielt die „Hunde im Garten des Herrn“, also Laienprediger eines Fantasy-Mormonismus in einem fiktiven alten Westen, die in die verstreuten Städte reiten um dort die Sünder zu erkennen.

DitV kommt mit einem verflixt effektivem Mechanismus um stetig eskalierende Konflikte abzubilden, und wurde dafür stets gerühmt.

Nach dem Spiel letztes Wochenende kann ich dem nur zustimmen: Schon die Erschaffung der eigenen Personnage führt die Spieler in die Welt ein, verknüpft sie mit dieser und gibt allen am Tisch ein Gefühl darüber, was ihre Rolle sein wird. Zusätzlich gibt es eine Art „Abschlussprüfung“, die jede Personnage durchläuft und die gleichzeitig den zentralen Konfliktmechanismus erläutert und erfahrbar macht.

Besagter Mechanismus ist im Grunde sehr simpel: Attribute, Eigenschaften, Beziehungen und Gegenstände bilden einen Würfelpool. Dieser wird geworfen und dann geht das Bieten, Mithalten und Erhöhen los, bis jemand nicht mehr mithalten kann oder will. Wenn man für diese Aktionen mehr als zwei Würfel benötigt, gibt es sogenannten Fallout — Schaden, den man auf jeden Fall am Ende würfelt.

In Abhängigkeit davon, wie sehr der Konflikt eskaliert ist, sind diese Schadenswürfel vier- bis zehnseitig. Eine Eskalation will man also im Allgemeinen sehr gerne vermeiden — allerdings kann man so unter Umständen eine ganze Menge Würfel mehr in seinen Pool bekommen…

Das Ganze lief dann im Spiel überraschend flüssig und interessant ab. Die Regeln formen einerseits sehr schön das Narrativ, erlauben aber auch ein sehr taktisches Spiel. Da DitV genau diesen Mechanismus zum zentralen Element des Spiels erhebt, ihn wunderbar in seine Umgebung einbettet und damit genau die Sorte Spaß erzielt, die es erzeugen will und bewirbt, ist es ein hervorragendes Beispiel für ein gelungenes „modernes Rollenspiel“.

Dass die Runde dann auch noch mit hochkarätigen Profi-Rollenspielern besetzt war, tat dann sein übriges. Ich war begeistert.


Ebenso begeistert war ich von der Monsterhearts Runde, die wir dann später am gleichen Abend hatten. Aus rein organisatorischen Gründen (Karsten hatte nur die vorherige Version dabei), spielten wir leider nicht die zweite Edition. Das ist am Rande schade, mich hätte nämlich durchaus interessiert, wie sich die Überarbeitungen im Spiel auswirken, tat aber dem grandiosen Spaß keinerlei Abbruch.

Interessant an dieser Runde war, dass es keinerlei externe Bedrohung gab. Stattdessen machten die Charaktere (Vampir, Werwölfin, ein Infernaler und eine Fae und ein Sterblicher) sich das Leben gegenseitig schwer.

Ich selbst habe das erste Mal versucht, den Sterblichen zu spielen. Das ist ein Playbook, das ohne eigene Macht auskommt — sich dafür aber hervorragend eignet, immer mehr Drama in das Leben der anderen Figuren zu bringen. Allerdings war das kaum notwendig, waren die anderen Spieler doch ebenso aktiv, genau das zu tun.

Denn als One-Shot ist Monsterhearts ein wahres Drama-Monster. Ich habe noch keine Runde erlebt, in der nicht alle Anwesenden beschlossen haben, ihre Charaktere wie ein gestohlenes Auto durch das Szenario zu steuern: Ohne Rücksicht auf etwaigen Blechschaden oder sonstige Verluste. Cheerleader wurden ausgesaugt, Polizisten in der Luft zerrissen, Handyvideos mit dem Hashtag #bitchfight an die ganze Schule weitergeleitet, und am Ende überlebte nur der Vampir den Showdown.

…und der Post in der Postapokalypse

Wenn ich derzeit viele Nerds treffe, zwinge ich denen eigentlich immer ein Testspiel Mail Order Apocalypse auf. So auch letztes Wochenende. Dabei kann ich verkünden, dass das jetzt schon die zweite Testrunde in Folge war, nach der ich nichts mehr am Spiel verändert habe. Offensichtlich ist das Spiel jetzt soweit gereift, dass es in sich stimmig ist und funktioniert.

Auch die Zufallsbegegnungen und Ortsbeschreibungen helfen ungemein. Ich recycle ja momentan immer Varianten des Zugraub-Szenarios, mische dabei aber stets Orte und Begegnungen aus den Tabellen hinein, und die Ergebnisse sind immer interessant und für die Spieler die Welt um ein vielfaches bunter.

Die Spieler haben sich schnell untereinander vernetzt, ihre Ausrüstung in interessanter Weise benutzt und sind sehr zu meiner Freunde am Ende doch dem Twist des Szenarios aufgesessen, und schmieden nun Rachepläne gegen die Techno-Mönche…

Alles in allem, wieder einmal ein wunderbares Spielewochenende.