January 12th, 2009


Three Games

On the weekend after Christmas I broke my long gaming drought with three games in quick succession. They were all different - in fact, they spanned the three "eras" of gaming previously discussed here on Gametime, the Old School (adventure and setting), the New School (character), and the Indie Revisionist (system and procedure). Here are a few impressions - they might spark further thoughts down the line.

First was me running 3:16 Carnage Among The Stars at hix's PostBoxCon. I've been eager to get in on some 3:16 for some time, and it was great to finally jump in with this in a one-off setting.

What I was doing in play: learning the rules; coming up with conflict scenes; figuring out what kind of critters the aliens were and what kind of threats they posed; playing the commanding officer specifically to make the characters' lives more difficult.

Impressions: The thing runs like a dream. There are some questions I haven't sorted yet, like how to represent the effects of people trying to achieve goals other than killin' aliens, and how some aspects of game description can be reflected in the system. Overall, though, I found it easy to learn and invigorating to run.

Second was a gathering for a relatively long-running Mage: The Ascension live game, The Invisible College. In this session, I took on the role of a spirit-world reflection of my personal character, and supported my character's best friend on his journey.

What I was doing in play: presenting and developing a scene for the hero PC; playing off of the other spirit-world NPC's improv in a fun way that opened spaces for the hero PC to explore; crackin' jokes; some pieces of developing the plot in a GMish kinda way; developing my understanding of my personal character through the behaviour I was taking as his reflection; following my intuition. The GM who set up the situation had no particular idea over how it would progress and resolve, so much of this emerged fluidly in play.

Impressions: the use of mechanical system in this game is so massively haphazard that it's hardly there at all. Basically, when the outcome of something is not apparent, rock paper scissors resolves that something. Narration explains odd outcomes (Theatrix-style), such that a weedy guy can take out a god just as easily as the reverse, but the way it gets explained in play will be completely different. However, the use of social system is really powerful and deep-set; like all improv games, there are complex understandings of genre that have built up over time that frame every creative contribution. This was a really fun session for me.

Third was a revival of a high-level D&D 3.5 game that had been dormant for a couple of years; with most of the group now back in the same city, we sat down to play.

What I was doing in play: referring to a prewritten scenario; framing scenes and providing connective narration throughout the game; thinking of ways to link character aspects to things in the scenario; trying to stage scenes to build up some mystery and suspense; make balance-of-probabilities judgements about the consequences of actions taken, knowing what I knew about the setting (the GM Imagined Space!); in combat sequences, always, always keeping things moving while handing over to players as much of the system detail as possible; making tactical and strategic decisions for the bad guys; trying (and failing) to keep track of all the special abilities and options available for the villains; rolling plenty of dice.

Impressions: this was a near-classic mission scenario, with all the good and bad that suggests; detailed planning followed by relatively successful execution and then a big boss fight, leavened with occasional moments of light-hearted character play. As always, the devil is in the details for D&D 3.x, with the resolution of conflicts building up from many incremental moments. The "ten minutes of fun squeezed into four hours" thing originates from this kind of play, but that misses the point that the detail of those increments, and the way dozens of small choices interlock, is the fun for many people.

So that was the last weekend of 2008 for me - three games in quick succession, good times all around. They all felt similar enough to me that they're clearly the same pastime, but looking at the detail of what I was doing in each, they were all very very different from each other. Anyway - good times. Onward to more games in 2009!

And did you see Mash's fascinating deconstruction of his gaming life?