Saturday, February 19, 2011

Too Funny For Hippie Games

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.

Observation 1:

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.

Observation 2:

Gyorgy Ligeti goes with Dread like cheese goes with burger, especially when pulling blocks.

Observation 3:

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.

Observation 4:

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.

Observation 5:

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.


Anonymous said...

Its interesting to me how the indie gaming scene seems to have a predilection towards one-shot games. I ran an indie-ish superhero game this past weekend that really felt like it ran best as a one shot game too. It required less in the way of seriousness however. The team ended up being a group of heroes who met in a support group with all the table jokes that go along with that.

I haven't played Dread but my friends who do seem to run it exclusively in a convention setting where they can use the same scenario with multiple different groups. Probably a necessity based on your observation on prep time.

Adam Dickstein said...

Since these games are right up my ally I thought I'd take a moment to post. I read regularly (every post regularly) but try not to post unless I can really contribute.

Not sure if this qualifies but I'm glad to hear you tried these games out and had fun. I also concur with pretty much everything noted about them.

Dread is tricky and can easily become all about Jenga if you don't have the proper set up or a clear idea of how to proceed with the game. When it works though, damn is it cool.

I am less familiar S/Lay With Me but found your notes on it intriguing. I will definitely have to check it out.

Its too bad both of the indie games were better for One-Shots (good and logical choices though they were since your friend isn't likely to be able to run a campaign with you). I love to here your reviews or opinions on longer term indie games.

Well, that's all. Back to my own hippie pursuits. Keep on truckin'.

Jeff Rients said...

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.

I agree with this assessment. As long as the DM is taking the game seriously the players can fart around in several different ways and you still have a game of D&D. N.B. Taking the game seriously is not the same as being a humorless prick. That's taking yourself seriously, which is not helpful.

Nick said...

Dread sounds fun.

So how about a post on what you guys have been up to with Rolemaster?

Lula said...

Your experiences with Dread line up with most others I have encountered. Really well put re: S/lay With Me versus D&D and omnilateral buy-in versus one person being really serious while everyone goofs off, also; that's a thought to keep pondering.

Zzarchov said...

9 inch nails and 50 cent? Wow...

Everyone knows you can only merge 50 cent with Queen.

Trolling aside:

" 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"

Even when I was single, I must admit I would have turned down this offer were I the guy. Not because it doesn't sound awesome but because I would not believe it. I would envision waking up without a kidney or wallet.

That this type of thing actually occurs strikes me as utterly hilarious. Its like finding out there really is a type of chocolate egg laying rabbit.

Hawp said...

Dread sounds interesting, but the idea of the tower falling leading to a player's character being out of the game seems strange. Surely it should down to the GM's discretion when to remove players from the game. In the example from the website it discusses trying to translate an article can kill off a player, seems a little illogical to me... That said, I'd be interested to play this game once my ideas for hometown-D20 modern run out.

@Zzarchov :The type of chocolate egg laying rabbit that steals your kidney? Sounds like as long as you had the right tools it could be salvageable, like a pet lion.

Zak Sabbath said...


it, of course, didn't work out and all ended in tears, as i predicted. but it did make me wonder how many times girls had awesome plans tht th rest of us never found out about because they were too good to be true.


it cannot be gm's discretion when someone's out of the game--then there is no fear, no tension, and no "dread". the whole point is to make each action more excruciating than the last. It's not D&D, it's its own thing. I mean, there are lots of games where if you fuck up you are out--tournaments work that way.

the gm has to design the game so that the early pulls are purely to make the table less stable, and has to make permanent consequences believable (death or maybe permanent insanity) for knocking the tower over though. that's doable though.

Knightsky said...

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.

I agree with Zak and Jeff. When I GM, I view myself as the 'straight man' to whatever antics the PC's wish to come up with. If they want to be all serious and drama-y, that's fine, but if they want to make fart jokes, that's fine too.

It's the reason I never liked the goofy spell names in T&T. I don't need the game rules to be silly; my players already have that base covered.

(unless I'm running something like Teenagers From Outer Space or Toon, but that's a whole 'nother slipped banana peel)

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see some kind of Dread scenario exchange happen. After all, if you're doing all that prep work, why not let others benefit from it - and in turn benefit from theirs?

Our group tends to hand off NPCs / environmental obstacles to players as they die. We also give them jobs like "Find a time when no one is paying attention to you, then slowly start dimming the lights."

Playing Dread is definitely its own skill set, but also definitely fun. :)

Hawp said...

@Zak S:

One of the largest pieces of dread the game inspires is keeping players occupied when they inevitably die whilst pushing their luck. Maybe it's their short attention span or just how they game, but my friends can always be guaranteed to push the envelope and as a GM I like to be able to keep my friends involved, even if it means fudging a dice roll, the aim is to have fun and if I'm telling a friend to do something else 30 minutes into the game I'm going to have some unhappy friends, that's my main concern.

Does each player need their own tower? My curiosity is getting the better of me and I'd like to be able to form my opinion of this game with some actual experience behind me. A quick shopping trip may be in order. =]

Adam Thornton said...

@Zzarchov: minus a wallet and a kidney? FAIR TRADE.

@Zak: "Dogs in the Vineyard" would be a very GOOD name for a certain kind of porn film. The garlic might not be accidental in that kind, though.

Anonymous said...

"Dogs in the Vineyard" is a terrible name, one I didn't believe was a real thing at first, but it seems like a fairly cool system. I like that it is stated in the rules: "do not come to the game with a character already made".

Zak Sabbath said...


I never fudge a die roll. The way I keep my players involved is let them know they'll die if they don't pay attention. It works fine for me.


I don't really see how that rule (or anything else int hat game) is anything more than standard hollywood screenplay-101ism.

Anonymous said...

On GM/game rules seriousness: yes. This is also why I think Reservoir Dogs and Pirates of the Caribbean feel like RPG campaigns: there's a plan, things go horribly wrong. There's exposition tying it all together, and then moments when clearly nobody has any idea how they're going to get out of this one. And fights that go on way, way too long, but nobody seems to mind.

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Zak Sabbath said...


None of the things you just said that have to do with, this, your exact quote, that I read, phrased--you'll notice--in the form of advice to me:

"You are seriously missing out on some Hippie Spirit in your life, dude."

That is simply an inaccurate statement. No interpretation of that other than an inaccurate statement as possible.

Also, if, (direct quote, that I read) you "don't read what (I) write anymore", please stop coming here and commenting on it.

Also, as for all your other comments, to be honest, I don't remember ever talking about any 'interpretation" of them. You posted a lot of stuff for Gigacrawler, that was good. The rest was, if I remember, fairly inoffensive.

Mange said...

Counter with the Shakira/Napalm Death mash-up.
And the best thing about hippies is that they're biodegradable....