Tag Archives: groups

State of The System and Ropecon mini-games

So, where is New Horizons? It’s been some 7 months of silence from my part (mostly because of a death in the family that derailed things), so I’ll try to get back on the track with short tidbits now and then maybe continue writing actual long posts further down the road.

Tokens I'm using now.

Quick update on the campaigns first: I’ve been running continuous games for Alpha and Bravo teams, ~15 sessions for Alpha, ~20 for Bravo. Bravo is just moving into Season 2 of the campaign with a big showdown in the last session we had and with Alpha we had a first team split to explore the characters in a more contained setting.

The feedback I’m getting from the players in invaluable (helps to have 7 people in the groups whose field of work is in gaming), which means that the system is updated often and keeps going through iterations quite fast. Officially we’re playing using the 2.3 version now, and I can’t count how many iterations the 1.x versions went through, but “countless” comes quite close.

The 1.0 rules were a shot in the dark. Anything that could even remotely fit a Corporate Scifi Horror campaign was incorporated. Way more mechanics than one could ever need, but that was sort of good. It’s easier for me to cut down mechanics than add new ones, it would seem. 1.x has had Death Moves (from Star Wars World), two interwoven stats (one set for approaches to situations, the other for professional expertise. They were just confusing), sanity-esque corruption-like mechanic and even a core Move (“You did … what?!”, which is basically “Are you crazy?!” from The Regiment 1.0) that was completely out of the style of the games that I was running. It had everything and the kitchen sink. Playtesting with the main groups showed me what got actually used and what had problems, and slowly but surely I honed the smaller details (like what stat to use where, or the wording of some Move) and kept in mind the big things I wanted to change.

Then came 2.0, which was basically the first big revamp. Reduced the system to 5 base stats (change of the stat “move” to “push”, ditch the role stats), one core Move for each stat, put more mechanical consistence on the way Moves work (for example, all role Moves that ask questions give an advantage (+1 forward) to a relevant follow-up Move), temporarily ditch the sanity mechanics so they don’t distract from the game, make the system actually geared towards teamwork, formalize the way threats and gear work.. and most importantly start building a vocabulary for Powered by Apocalypse games that works more naturally in Finnish. If all games are essentially conversations that are moderated by rules, the rules need to speak the same language as the conversation for things to flow perfectly. While the 2.x rules give the campaign some structure, but most importantly, they are geared towards one-shots, like convention games. If 1.x was a general shot in the dark, 2.x took weird stabbing motions towards a campaign play structure and the character advancement there had everything imaginable in it.

And as of last week, I’m now working on the 3.0 version. It will not hit the campaigns in a long while as I realized that there are huge changes that I need to do to the very core of the system. The character roles (playbooks) have always felt schizophrenic and overlapping, and after making pregenerated characters for a couple of con games, combined with feedback on the sanity system from Alpha team, I figured out I may have to take a dual-playbook approach to the game after all. Role book and Depth book (name pending), where the later is the character’s approach when things get shadow biosphere-y and the first one deals with the mundane. Moves will go through a language and functionality check so that using a Move becomes natural in the conversation of the game (so most adjective+noun combos like “calculating bastard” turn into something more action-y like “accept the cost”) and the effects reaffirm the corporate scifi horror theme. There is a huge need to revamp the roles as well. Empath, Seer and Voice roles will be rewritten to more mundane counterparts, while the shadow biosphere stuff moves to new parallel playbooks. Stats will move around for all the roles but the Leader, and this will again have an effect on the moves. And other things. All in all, my mind is primed with ideas.

Full set of character cards for one character. Moves, tokens, the work.

The other thing I wanted to mention was the Ropecon games and what I learned from those.

First thing I learned is that New Horizons is meant to be played around a proper table. It’s a funny by-product of the card system, but to function “as intended”, the game needs structured seating where everyone sees each other and have their cards in front of them. I am not sure what to do with this information in regards to the actual campaigns I’m running (where the game situations are … relaxed), but it might be so that I move the games to the kitchen from now on. There is some relevance in having the Leader at the end of the table, facing the GM as equal (this was impossible actually at Ropecon because of the noise) and everyone around the table seeing the cards and the tokens.

I ran two atypical scenarios at Ropecon, and playtested both before the con. The fact they were something else, allow me to look back and say things like “well yes, if this had been a normal +H game, there should have been some sort of an intel-gathering phase there at the beginning.” Which leads to me thinking that there needs to be a mission setup Move. 10+, you know two facts about the mission choose both (insert list). 7-9, as 10+, but you choose one, GM chooses one. 6-, as 7-9, but GM gets an extra Move for a Threat. Or something like that. In one, I used the gear system to the maximum potential, in the other, the Threats (I’ll have to talk about those in full detail later. They’re pretty much like Tremulus’ GM hold, but more nuanced).

It’s nice to see where the game is going and even if the players weren’t there to provide feedback for my game design, but to enjoy a game, it was interesting to see how they interacted with the system.

I will run the scenarios I did for Ropecon probably once more so I won’t put the details here to spoil potential players.

The Importance of Honest Communication in RPGs

One of the greatest things about growing older is developing that confidence about who you are that enables you to openly express what you really want and what you actually don’t. Besides the obvious benefits in relationships and random encounters in the night, clear and honest communication has also done wonderful things to how we play our RPGs.

I’d really love to hear about what you guys are thinking of playing, so I can better build my character as the glue that binds the team together.

My character will appear to be really antisocial and cold at the beginning, but this is only because I’d like to let the growth out of that shell be a big part of her story.

I just got out of a rough relationship, so if it’s at all possible, can the stuff focusing on my character’s family life be bright and happy?

I’d love to see you guys push me to making hard calls.

I’m paraphrasing what various players in my games have voiced about their characters and preferences to the rest of us. Something like that wouldn’t have happened 5 years ago. On a really good day, we might have vaguely hinted the GM what we wanted, but having an open discussion about it, especially with the whole group – unheard of.

Honest communication?

(cards by 4PM Designs, tokens from Dapper Devil)

New Horizons is in a good place when it comes to honest communication. It’s been fun to see to the players making their ideas ideas, wishes, needs and wants known to me and each other. And as with many things, the two teams differ somewhat in their approach to this.

The Alpha Team’s players have been very open and vocal about the direction and pace they want the game to progress and what sort of things they’d love to see and feel in it. As GMs, they have a solid grasp of the structures underneath that makes them willing to talk about structural matters quite openly. They are also extremely careful about not stepping on each others’ toes or stealing the spotlight from someone else. Polite lot.

And as a more concrete example, The Bravo Team character creation / tutorial session began with a good long talk about what the players were looking for from each other and how “we should see how this plays out and be willing to change things if they don’t really click.” The conversation was started by the players themselves without any prompt from me while I was in the other room getting ready for the game. I walk back to the gaming table and there is a discussion going on about how they see horror in games and how they should play it together.

It’s a wonderful age to be playing games in. We’ve matured as people and as gamers a lot over the years.

One thing that I just have to mention is something I came across while reading Ashen Stars after Joonas (Who plays The Leader in Alpha Team) recommended checking it out. The game actually has a formal system for dealing with characters’ personal plotlines. While I will not use this particular system in detail, I will be asking the players to come up with a few themes, plot points or motifs that they want to see their character exploring and encountering in the campaign. But this will wait until after the tutorials are done so the players have had an opportunity to see and feel the game for what it actually is.

I’ll leave you with a thought about your next game. With RPG campaigns becoming more “this our game here” instead of “the GM’s game that we get to participate in,” and things like “How violent and how graphic do we want to be?” or “At what point do we fade to black in a sex scene?” being standard discussion topics (which reminds me, I need to cover these with the players in +H): Why not expand the dialogue further, to things like “What are our themes?” “What do we want to explore with this game?” “Where are we going with this thing?” “What do we need from this?”

Introduction to the New Horizons RPG Campaign

Welcome, fellow RPG person. To the world that is not apparent to the naked eye. Where we as humans are not the only dominant species, and we are not even aware of it yet.

This here is the mandatory first post of a new blog. Something that’s usually the hardest bit for me to write, but I have a good feeling that since there’s a lot of ground to cover, I’ll manage to write something. And I’ll be expanding on each topic I touch here later in their own posts.

New Horizons has officially started. It’s a tabletop roleplaying game campaign that I’ve been planning and working on for a good while. The elevator pitch of what sort of a game this is is “team-based sci-fi horror game set in the modern day” with the players playing characters who form a field team of a firm called New Horizons (which is the source of the name, obviously).

Mechanically, the game runs on a system Powered by Apocalypse that’s been adapted to a more traditional team and mission based format. Biggest influences in system design have been Apocalypse World itself, The Regiment, Star Wars World and Tremulus. While the new mechanical things it brings to the table are few, the presentation and goals of the game differ quite a lot from that what Apocalypse usually barfs out.

The table morning after a New Horizons RPG game session

Structure-wise, I have two player groups in the campaign. Five-character (and five-player) teams each. Ten players quite a lot, but compared to my previous long-term campaign and the 54 players who participated, this is relatively manageable. The way I chose the players for the two teams was different for each.

The “Alpha Team” has five veteran GMs as players. The least experienced one has some 18 years of running games under his belt. I wanted people who knew what they were doing, and also people who don’t get that many chances to play games, because they’re busy running them all the time.

The “Bravo Team” has been hand-picked to build a team that would play out the horror aspect of the campaign the best. All of them are people who I know to be as immersive players as they come (not to slander the GM group – there is something that years of GMing games does to the way you view and play games), regardless of the experience.

Both teams’ players were given character roles to fill. The Leader, The Techie, The Seer, The Empath and The Voice. Each role came with a limited pool of things that they could choose to be able to do and a short description that might point at what the characters could be. The end result is two teams where the characters essentially fill the same purposes, but in descriptive text, they are quite polar opposites.

The game is a horror game and I’m planning on exploiting all the possible tricks in the book to get there. The initial idea of mine was that I wanted to do something of Cthulhu, but without resorting to a) the Cthulhu Mythos or b) all the tropes that come with Cthulhu. It’s my Cthulhu heartbreaker.

And it’s off to a good start. At the time of writing this, Alpha Team is somewhere in the rainy woods of Heartland, Maine; while Bravo Team is examining maps at a seven star luxury hotel in Dubai, UAE.