So our pal came back for a visit after moving to the Bay Area.
Now there is only one reason to move from Southern California to Northern California: to become more of a hippie.*
Sure enough, he arrived on our doorstep last night with a feather in his hair and indie games in his pocket (it is unclear as to whether or not he had a song in his heart).
But he is a good egg, and we are--as all good-hearted people know--good sports, so his games we did play.
Dread, the horror RPG where you use Jenga blocks instead of dice, was the main event, and the most interesting. The setting was an Ali Baba 40 Thieves thing. It quickly degenerated into backstabbing and, therefore, quickly degenerated into Jenga.
We were actually all cool with this and had a good time except Mandy kept saying that when she died she would just listen to 50 cent/Nine Inch Nails mash-ups on youtube**, which gave me, despite the set-up, more incentive than you could possibly imagine to keep her PC alive.
Despite being, once the game starts, rules-lite, Dread is highly GM-prep-level dependent. The GM designs, or helps the PCs to design, motivations and goals for their characters. Carefully planned, the game can totally not just turn into Jenga and the disintegrating block-tower is a simple counterpoint to the action, like ominous theme music, however if the challenge is too straightforward, the best Jengists will survive and that's that.
Gyorgy Ligeti goes with Dread like cheese goes with burger, especially when pulling blocks.
This game is fucking fun. If every Dread GM had the same amount of practice, experience and received wisdom behind them for their game as the average adult D&D GM does, everyone would know this game rocked. Only problem is is it's very one-shotty, so you are putting all that thought and effort into something that'll probably last one night rather than a campaign. But then, many of the best things in life are about putting a lot of thought and effort into something that'll probably last one night.
Hosts/GMs: Give thought to what people will do, socially, once dead. Otherwise you may have to hear 50 cent/Nine Inch Nails mash-ups.
The character-sheet-created-by-individualized questionnaire thing rocks. Especially for a one-shot. I recommend porting it, though, like all things in Dread, it is highly GM-prep-quality-dependent.
After Dread it was either Chaos In The Old World or S/Lay With Me and since playing any boardgame with Cameraman Darren requires being seriously hardcore about the crunch and because the ladies love Conan, we went for S/Lay With Me--a Ron Edwards game.
It's like: you quickly describe a character for you to play, and (maybe secretly) invent a Lover and a Monster for them to interact with. Each person sort of DMs the person to his/her left. There are some super-light mechanics that basically are just there to make sure the story actually moves toward the monster. So it's basically a lot of just improvising shit.
Observations and theories (based, admittedly, on playing this game once):
-One-shot games of exotic fantasy can be difficult to concentrate on if the actual events proximate to the game constitute a more exotic fantasy than the events imagined in the game. To wit, last night, talk of one participant's tremendous and impending breast enlargement, a female friend's tremendous and impending plan to, with 4 other young women, go to a bar, find a single suitable, strange cute boy, and have a fivesome with him, and the recent discovery of an unexpected clove of garlic in a vagina on film. (This is not the game's fault.)
-One-shot games of exotic fantasy with shared narration can be difficult if everybody at the table has a sense of humor. (This is somewhat the game's fault.)
-The subjective quality of an indie game vis-a-fucking-vis casa DNDWPS may be directly proportional to the quality of its name. S/Lay With Me? Really? Dogs In The Vineyard is definitely the third worst name I've ever heard for anything. (Worst: Porn movie called Shades of Romona, second worst: metal band called Several). Dread is a perfect name.
This doesn't seem apply to traditional RPGs: Rolemaster is a thoroughly uninspiring name, as is Traveller.
-Contrary to the occasional New School claim to the contrary, being the DM is not universally regarded as a privilege.
-I think D&D works like this: the rules, setting, and DM are relatively serious (or at least intense) so you--the player--don't have to be. You can be drunk and play the goofiest half-troll half-gnome bard in the world and the game will keep chugging along and being a game full of twists and challenges and unexpected delights for all (including the drunk gnome) because it's pre-loaded with serious business. Unless pretty much everyone playing S/Lay With Me is earnest about playing S/Lay With Me, the game will crumble. If they're not, they might still have fun, but it doesn't seem like a lot more fun than if the same funny people were just riding around in a car bullshitting about what the next Conan movie would be like if they got to direct it.
Anyway, all fine and good to fuck around, but we're itching for the next Rolemaster session.
*Wait, you might be saying, what if you just want to drop out of the hyper-competitive amphetamized LA environment and just chill out while not having to listen to shit about how your tattoos are marks of Satan (like that's a bad thing) or blind conformity to...(whatever the hell East Cast people on their Blackberries are on about)? Well then you move to Portland. Duh. Or, if you like interesting weather, New Orleans. This has been a public service announcement.
**Boys: rolling with strippers does have a downside. That was also a public service announcement.
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