January 18th, 2009

Best Friends: Fellowship of the Ring

This year I was lucky enough to make it in to Kapcon for one session of gaming!  I decided to join the sizeable group opting for Games on Demand, a recent Kapcon development  which moves away from the majority of the con's planned games and tight schedule and instead provides a room or two, several generally well-prepared and very willing GMs, and invites people to show up at scheduled times and pick any game they like from the large stack of indie games on display.

There was about 10 minutes of suggesting and then voting for games for the round I was there for, with a result of 4 games being run in two rooms:
  • Best Friends
  • 3:16
  • Shab Al Hiri Roach
  • Duty and Honour

I'd voted for both Best Friends and 3:16, though my preference was for the former (not feeling I had the required volume in me for killing space-bugs with appropriate vigour).  I was momentarily torn as Gregor Hutton, author of both games, was going to run 3:16, but I went with my game preference and got to play in an awesome Best Friends game run by Hix.  We were in the same room as Gregor's 3:16 game so we got to eavesdrop on them a little, when we weren't drowning them out with laughter.  My favourite overheard quote was something like:

"Try to kill more bugs than marines."

Sound military strategy for a marine army to adopt, I'm sure.

Our own game followed the promising premise of a group of four hobbit lasses leaving the shire in pursuit of the Fellowship, trying to catch the four dishy hobbit boys in order to ask them to the upcoming Shire Dance.  Three of the girls were in love with Merry, the other (his sister) was in love with Sam.  We had a rich girl, a smart girl, a tough girl and a pretty girl, and not a lot of common sense between us.  We knew from the outset that we were giong to play it for laughs and the game did not disappoint.

None of us were Tolkein experts, but we'd all seen the movies and most of us had read Fellowship at least once.  We wanted to hit some of the key moments from the book, but weren't too fussed on slavishly sticking to the script.  We ended up with a scene or two in the Barrow-downs culminating in us being saved by Aragorn, a very brief encounter with Tom Bombadil, a scene or two in Bree, a travel montage and a climactic dance at the House of Elrond.

Hix drove the game toward conflict ably, both with external agents and between characters.  At first much of this conflict was discussed on a player level, with Hix asking probing questions about what we were trying to achieve, how we felt about other characters, and identifying what kinds of conflicts were looming (this is starting to look like a cool challenge, prettiness challenge etc).  As the game progressed the conflicts began to grow more quickly out of direct player actions (I'm going to use my smarts to convince Aragorn that the girl-hobbits should go on the quest instead of the boys), player interactions ("I grab Merry and drag him out of the room."  "I flutter my eyelashes at Merry and shout 'Don't go!'"), and the increasingly mad-cap plot.

Having three girls pursue the same boy was a brilliant source of conflict.  It ended with one girl settling for her second choice (Pippin), one girl kind of winning Merry's heart but then being pushed to her apparent death over the cliffs in Rivendell, and one girl turning murderer after stealing the One Ring in order to snoop on and break up Merry and her rival.

In-character talk was up and down, with some players choosing to narrate their characters' actions more often than speak in character, while I put on my best BIll Bailey West Country accent and tried to talk in character as much as possible.

Having unexpected moments from the trilogy pop up in play can lead to very loud laughter and a delicious sense of poetic justice.  My favourite example was in the Inn at Bree when one of the characters swiped the ring from Frodo just before the Nazgul attacked, then put it on to try to get away.  She failed to resist the power of the ring and was instantly corrupted.  This looked like a pretty messy spot to be in an hour before the game ended, and I could see a few of us scratching our heads about how to keep the story moving without losing a character.  The solution?  Frodo lost it, jumped onto the invisible character and bit their finger off.

I had a great time playing this, and am a big fan of Best Friends.  I also had the pleasure of reading a gender-bending Best Friends Robin Hood scenario in the lead-up to Kapcon as part of the scenario design contest - the subject of an upcoming post :-)