Stinkers (part three)

I don’t like to focus on the negative. I’ll be back to outlining awesome games soon, really.

The third stinker was my first Cyberpunk game. Now, you have to know, my first real exposure to the genre was Jeter’s Dr. Adder with a dose of Karl Hansen’s War Games and Dream Games which probably means that I was going to be disappointed from the lack of deviant sex. [ahem]

The reason it was a stinker was because it was a game that came from a module.

See, I had had modules before – I had actually acquired many through means one might consider spurious or traditional.1 I’d read many, and yes, Castle Amber (no, not THAT Amber) was a favourite. I’d looked upon them as awesome inspiration to build into a campaign, but I guess… I guess I really hadn’t been aware that anyone would simply use them as the sole game event.

“Why don’t we just go to Cuba, instead? I hear Cuba’s nice this time of year.”

That quote really helped define a lot of my gaming… because when the PC said it in my campaign, I realized I wanted being able to go to Cuba2 to be an option. I didn’t want to ever say, “No, the game is here, and you have to stay here…”

I wanted my game to be able to chase them.  If others had taken the Cuba Plan, I would have to had ideas for Cuba.  “You took a contract.  Now you have to pay…” being only the most obvious of the bunch.

So when in the Cyberpunk game three of the PCs decided to do something that wasn’t handled by the module… We didn’t want to fight. Our characters wouldn’t have made it a fight.  I don’t know how it broke the game… and that’s what makes it a stinker.

Favourite Games of Mine (part two of five)

“As Above, So Below” (ACNW)

I had been having a very bad time at the convention so far, because the other game I’d run (“Hook, Line, and Stinker”) a throne-war-ish adventure based on a king that refused to die… hung up on a door.  It wasn’t a real door. It was an obstacle. The idea was that there was no reason to go through the door. My home group? They went through the wall instead.2

At one point some of the players decided it was an exploration adventure, and the guy leading decided he was the cleric of the group.  He had managed to meditate and open a set of magically warded doors, so when he made it to the temple, he puts his hands up and begins to solemnly trance. I inform him there are, indeed, handles. 3

Other favourite memories? Two children of Fiona, who see a woman indicated as “the Keeper of the Waters of Dream,” with red hair addressing them as, “Children–” only to be punched in the face.  The quiet seer saying, “That’s…not…Gerard,” in the small voice That People Listen To…

And finally, the guy who was First Ranked in Strength, having to let all the ‘clever’ folk figure out the puzzles, slams the Boss Fight in an arena, going hand-to-glowing-cloud (this was pre-Night Vale) in a smack-down of tentacles and evil ichor. All in all, a fun run, and one of the best I’d had at the con.

Stinkers (part two)

It’s hard to run Amber. The rulebook gives suggestions as to how things work, but even those running games very close to the canonical view have to answer a lot of questions as to how things work in a new situation. The overall rule of Amber is, “You succeed unless something has an interest in stopping you.” You can pick any lock, speak any language, go where you wish, unless there’s an active force opposing. Cosmologies can be created simply on a new aspect of how the powers work (check out our power categories.)

On the other hand, there’s a certain feel to Amber. The lack of “wuss Amberites” rule. When I play Amber, I want there to be the big challenges, the personal triumphs, and the destructive possibilities. You should dance on the edge of, “Over the top,” simply because of being living legends.

So when we joined this Amber game, I was excited. I created a deeply flawed character, (Chantal) a thug with a penchant for, “cold currency and hot blood.” The first day was great, with mechanical creatures and magical items, and then… the game seemed to be someone’s old AD&D game ported to Amber.

That wasn’t the stinker, though.

The stinker was because the GM (and a couple of other players) were so determined to keep their secrets that we had nothing to do.

The puzzles were killing puzzles.

In a game where everyone should be larger than life, there should be a decided lack of down moments. Yes, there’s a definite timing for revealing secrets, but when you’re stalling the player chemistry because of it, you need to think of something else. Tell us the secrets, and the characters can still be in the dark.

…And while I appreciate a good puzzle, if the players keep banging at something and not getting anywhere, it’s time for a clue.

The game didn’t last very long for us, but it’s the first campaign I’ve ever joined where I was dreading going to it so much I actually found myself coming up with excuses to not game. I’m sure some of it was just that it was a bad game match, but it’s definitely going down in my mind as a Stinker.

Favourite Games of Mine (part one of five)

Interrupting my other series because I’m having trouble narrowing down parts four and five (I think I’ve got number four, but there’s this caveat that I have to get through first).

Shadowrun on TAG. 1

The very loose premise of the game was that Benjamin Stryfe, a corporate vampire, wanted the ‘Runners to “house-sit” for him for a few days while he was out of the country. Why he needed such a large and varied team was that he was expecting “trouble” at his manse, well, and he might have been feeling a mite peckish. He’d laid some strange traps and there’d been existing pieces of his myriad collections that were troublesome, after all.

So, it started out as a dungeon crawl, like so many other games have…

…and then there were the characters.

Honestly, there were too many and I loved each of them in their own dysfunctional way.

Gourmet, the investigator. We used Gourmet in a few other games; she’s one of those characters where they have a ton of contacts who help her out, so she’s a great character for a PBeM style game. (She gets involved later with Scaramouche, an old wizard gentleman.)

Lightshadow. The mercenary who knew the somatic ingredients for a major destructive spell, despite not being able to cast anything.

“POGO BALL HOO. HOO. HOO.”  The Troll.

And of course, our rigger, Maxi I’ve mentioned as being the character whose player deflowered me in a gaming fashion.

What made the game great was just the grand sweeping scale of it. Eventually they found all the secrets and blew up the mansion, of course. It was my first really successful game on a BBS, and some of the quotes and scenes from it persist as part of our vocabulary to this very day.

Stinkers (part one)

I promised a list of the “stinker” games as well…

[MaBNote — OK, I know I’m not done with the current list, but while I think I’ve chosen numbers four and five from the vast group of awesome games I’ve played (as opposed to ran – that’s another list) I’ve got this big caveat on number four that I’m having trouble pushing through, so I’m just going to start the next group rather than slow posting anymore than it already has.]

So, the stinkers. The only player you’re going to know in the stinkers category is myself, and everything else should be fairly anonymous unless you were there. Heck, in this first game, I don’t remember the names [PC or player] of anyone else except for the person who invited me, so that should make it easier, right? I’m putting it behind the veil of sorts, because you should only need to see the horror because you asked for it.

Ground Glass and GM Punishment

Continue reading “Stinkers (part one)”

The Best Games I’ve Ever Played (part three of five)

Samir (The Radioactive-Kitten Juggler)’s Battletech LARP of Infamy

So, I’m talking to the LintKing and telling him I’m putting together this series, and he’s all interested in which games I’m referring to (which is fair – he was in most of them) and I say, “I need to mention The LARP.” Because, it’s been like a dozen years plus, and it is still mostly, “The LARP.” Sometimes if it’s out of context (or we could be talking about the Justicar1) I say, “You know, with Santiago,” which isn’t how I think of it (I think of the Captain and her anti-mech techniques [like the mine that she wore around her neck]) but this many years later there are still people who know us because of “The LARP.”

Now, what’s funny about this is that I had been playing for weeks and weeks as “Santiago” AKA “The Computer Guy.” For weeks and weeks, and I knew very little about what was going on, in-character. (No one ever trusted Santiago. They put him in a bunk they had made in the airlock, figuring it was easier to buy new bedding. Santiago only got one actual threat about being spaced, even if the rest of the crew knew about the set-up… but he deserved it by suggesting karaoke as a diversion.) Heck, out-of-character I still wasn’t sure how we were ridding the universe of some shapeshifting nasties. In-character Santiago’s biggest contribution was probably that he (by reasons of morale, he figured) fended off a mechwarrior with a stick. It wasn’t even a very large stick. (It was, however, a ridiculously good roll.)

The LARP was held off in a two-story warehouse that someone said was the base for Dream Park in Boulder (back when that stuff was viable.) The bottom floor had the reception area, and the top floor had a wooden bar, all sorts of odd seating, and some extra odd-shaped rooms. There might have been a third floor (I kind of remember a dark staircase area) but I never made it there, if it wasn’t blocked off. (Remember, “Location” is one of my main LARP set-up rules, because using your location wisely helps with immersion.)

As well as having fabulous in-character discussions (Santiago claimed to be the creator of “Minesweeper 3000,” a virtual reality “Asteroids” game crossed with the “Minesweeper” premise – math AND flight simulator!) there were several (for lack of a better term) “minigames” within the situation.

As a player, I knew we were trying to see who had been “turned,” in this case, becoming one of the enemy. I was tasked with determining if the LintKing’s PC had been, and of course, I was told he hadn’t.2 Apparently (having discussed this years later with him) they had a resource-capturing game (I’m not sure if it was done via trumping others cards or not, but cards were used) amongst the NPCs as well as their trying to figure out what we were up to… and at least two other paranoia-inducing games, including the occasional psychic event. (I remember my husband doing a dramatic swoon when all Hearts were announced to pass out temporarily. Mostly, I remember my husband looking fabulous in a purple satin ballgown.)

I can’t tell you how much I absorbed about running LARPs from this, but every one I’ve been a part of has taught me something, and this one is still pretty infamous, hence its inclusion.3

1 Because that was one of my crazy throne-war LARPs that had its own legends.

2 I am almost NEVER the werewolf, either, despite what my sister Chuck says. She always tags me as the werewolf. I am usually a Mason, if we’re playing with them.

3 And the disclusion…exclusion, that’s it… of the one where my mom’s best friend explained, “I never knew how much sex you guys get in games. That was like an orgy!” where I’m kind of glad I dropped out early (from pain, alas) if it was getting to be more a White Wolf Play Party.

The Best Games I’ve Ever Played (part two of five)

Colossus’ TORG Playtest on TAG

I owe him an apology. You don’t know how big an apology, but it’s a huge apology. It’s not an apology because I can’t remember what name he gave the game. I don’t even know what particular alias he was wielding at the time, although I have my suspicions. He had built a game to playtest on TAG1 for what I believe was an upcoming convention.2 He humoured me in some fashion to be allowed to contribute. I spent 20 minutes yesterday looking up any reference to it, but it was pretty pre-‘net, and, we never needed real names.

The reason I owe him an apology is because I blew up over what I now know as elegance.

“Elegance” is one of those words that I find hard to define exactly. In this case, it was having such a beautiful balance in character designs that I mistakenly saw it as railroading. When you have a necromancer as well as the perfect(!) foil in an… I don’t know what my character was. A doubting priest. An anti-necromancer3. What I saw was, “This is inevitable.” I was wrong. And I am sorry. And I really, really, wish I could now build pre-gen characters with the same elegance. I constantly come back to what I saw of his design to say, “Do I have all the pieces?”

Because I saw the clues, but I forgot the most important factor – the players. I know. It was dumb. Hence, more apology. (Here. Have heaps and heaps of apology.) What I thought was a done deal changed as soon as you added that unstable element. It became exciting again, because (as I was saying in part one) the aspect of secrets (here’s a guy surrounded by zombies, and hey, I have anti-zombie stuff) was waning, but the aspect of surprise was waxing.

Besides my chagrin, I remember mostly that it was dark. The layout of the scenario’s tombs and graves as I had pictured them still stays with me. The moon, the cold… white and grey turning to blue with the touch of magic. I can’t recall the whole plot, and I don’t know who “won,” but it was good.

1 The Assassins’ Guild BBS, long defunct now. Still, I miss it. I miss it intensely at times. This would be the source of the Haut Gout and the Kingslayer now-and-again references.

2 I mentioned this to the LintKing, and he immediately grinned and said, “Uh oh.” I recall faintly that actually the playtest helped the GM avoid the craziness we were heir to… but who knows? It was a long time ago.

3 OK, everyone now: “Typecast!”

The Best Games I’ve Ever Played (part one of five)

“Small Town, Bright Lights” by Don Ide, played at ACNW 2003.

I have been in some awesome games. I mean, awesome in ways that make my eyes glaze over in memory and just get to this indescribable, “Uh, it was… awesome…” answer when people ask me about them. They’re a lot like dreams; so much has happened that’s in the moment and the world of the game that describing them just doesn’t always express the awesome.

I say this because in order to pick five favourites, I am not trying to deny any of the other awesome games I’ve been in… because I’ve been very lucky to mostly have positive gaming experiences. Can I think of five stinker games? Yep, I’ll post about those down the line.

To start with, I want to draw attention to the one I call my favourite game. Don Ide’s “Small Town, Bright Lights,” played at ACNW 2003.

Now, it might surprise anyone who was in the game, even the GM, that this is what I call my favourite game, but let me explain a little.

Without giving the plot away, “Small Town, Bright Lights,” started out kind of creepy. We had each, individually, experienced an episode of madness.1

Within the first 90 minutes, I think every one of the players (and the player mix was a big part of the enjoyment – we had what I would probably say was a spread of 3 straight players and the rest true wildcards2) realized individually that we weren’t getting out of this alive.

And boy, was that a fun ride. It was freeing in a sense that games where you know the GM isn’t going to kill you isn’t. You want to know you CAN risk it all. In this case, man, once you have made that decision, everything goes to another level. This is the first (and really, the only) game where that’s been made clear by the events and it was all…good. No fatalism, just realizing that meant we all had to be heroes, of a sort. It’s the allure, actually, of the Kobayashi Maru3 – you can’t quit, you can’t win, you might be clever enough to cheat, but you’re definitely there to play the game.

I was playing one of the straights. (I know, I’m typecast. [snort]) Up to the last inevitable moment I was going to fight as if I had something to fight for, waiting for that final hope, that chance it would work.

Things the GM did well:



  • Kept a good sense of tension.




  • We had to keep running, but we had enough time in any one place for the terror to build. The more we knew about what was happening, the more we could speculate, but the less we really knew. We never had enough time to do more than a little guesswork, try some things out. In some games it takes two hours for the players to finish shopping for their characters. We didn’t have that. We could try grabbing ether in a doctor’s office and setting it on fire… Anything else? Nope, they’re coming in through the windows. We’d better blow the place up and run.




  • Projected the sense of location – he knew exactly where he had placed it.




  • The important thing about this wasn’t for us, so much. As characters, we were running, we weren’t buying houses4. We were trying to find a place to catch our collective breath… so the GM knew exactly what the places were and could paint in some broad strokes. Did we die faster than we might have because of some bad choices of where we went? Sure… and it made sense in the game fiction.5




  • Kept the surprise.




  • This is different than keeping secrets. More and more I am convinced that there is no good strategy in a GM keeping secrets from the characters. Some of the best games I’ve been in have been ones where the players have been “in” on the secrets and the connecting the dots was all part of the fun. Keeping the surprise is different – a good GM spills the secrets and keeps the overall “surprise” so that you feel like, “I know where this is going and TWIST! REASONABLE… BUT UNEXPECTED TWIST!” It’s like what you’re supposed to feel when you slip on that banana peel. I think.




Things the players did well was to play, laugh, and creep themselves out. That’s a good game sequence right there, but it was great to have a GM support it.


1 Yes, this was the game with Timmy.

2 “Straights and wildcards” could probably be the name of any gamer mixer essay collection I make. Not regarding the “seven words you don’t use in gaming,” there really are “types.” This is a not a binary group, and it’s not even one I consciously think of when I’m working my games – I’m much more likely to do the Scooby test. “Straights” in this case, refers to the duo comedy era “straight man,” but in this case they play the PC not meant to be “outside the standard classifications” (fighter, thief, mage, cleric) who is surprised by, or is the object of, a campaign-twist. Wildcards, of course, are people who are playing the standard classifications but there’s something about the way they play it that means you can’t predict their actions. Most gamers fall within this spectrum, but what I’d consider a “true wildcard” is someone who could try to play a “straight” all they want… and fail. Yeah, the LintKing is kind of one of these. They’re not trying to make an unusual character – that’s the annoyance factor of those who want to push the spectrum. I am more of a “true straight.” I might make a fabulous character with all sorts of neat bits, but when it comes to playing? Most of the time I’m the tank.

3 It’s funny, because the Kobayashi Maru is a gaming scenario inside Star Trek.

4 You know, exploring everything, checking the foundation, looking for the (un)dead bodies in the crawlspace. “Buying houses,” is how you methodically raid a dungeon.

5 I have only had one complaint about that in an otherwise very good game… I don’t remember if I put it in my list of top five, but I’ll explain it separately.


A Stone’s Throw [4E]

What do I roll to get stoned? You know, petrification.

I am glad the LintKing reads the books. Because he’s the one who answers the questions when I ask, “OK, what should we roll for this?”

Take, for example, the incident tonight.

Drythar, Beryl, Molivus, and Thorn have made it out of the ancient coliseum.

Between commentary (there’s only two of us – you’d think we’d move faster than this… but discussion ranged from banana nut muffins, blue penguins who are actually god-emperors of the multiverse, mufflers of gold, and scarfing food) some fifteen minutes later our intrepid heroes manage to open the door.

A minute later, there’s a whistle from behind them, and then one of the strange glass arrows (with obsidian “fletching”) is fired above their heads and into the ancient cactus directly outside.

(They haven’t observed, passively or otherwise, that this is actually not the first time for this to have happened.) (Or the skill of the archer – it should have slid right through, but…practice, after all.)

So, should they turn directly around they could have caught the gaze of the lurking medusa who’s been playing with them for about half an hour of their “careful” trip through the hall of statues.

I want them to roll to fail the automatic reaction of trying to make out something in the gloom they left. I’d rather not deal with two more statues, not that I can really find any petrification rules. (It’s probably something you can “self-heal,” muttermutter. Did I mention I made my cleric/mage a warlock instead? It’s seeming to fit better.)

What do they roll? And if they fail it, do they roll a saving throw?

“I should have stuck with THAC0,” is like our theme song.

We went with a wisdom check and yes, saving throws. Which suck hard in 4e, but we’re trying…really.

Space Slayers

Another brief dip in the PTA system.

No really.  “Space Slayers, the Series!” 

So, in trying this Prime Time Adventures thing again (this time with Rainbow K and the Barbarian) we started with a pitch session that had Pirates, Vampires in Spa(aaaaaaaaaaaaa!)ce, and bits and pieces from other shows the two had watched. We were driving to my place, so I figured we had enough time to at least build the idea in the kids’ heads.

“Why vampires in space?”

“No sunshine.”

“Oh.   Yeah.  They’d LOVE space.”

The premise turns out to be that Vampires have invaded Earth, and the protagonists are freedom fighters trying to get their home out of the clutch of the evil undead (undead, O!)

So the real argument came up with the fact that both players wanted to be Captains of their own ships. I tried a variety of alternatives

“How about one of you take ‘Captain’ as a trait, and the other be…I don’t know… pilot?”

“No.” [in chorus]

“How about you both be other things, and there be another Captain on the ship, like an NPC?”

“No.” [in chorus]

“What if I said that your ships were itsy-bitsy tiny so being Captain wasn’t really going to count for anything?”

“Um….” pause, consider, “No.”

So on, and so forth.

…but they were set. Cool.

(I always encourage testing them to see what’s going to be their pivot point, but if they’re steady, let’s (of course!) go with what they want. I think that’s one of the “gaming with kids” rules that goes unnoticed a lot, because we have GM fiat and player choice (fiat! [snort]) and when working with kids, they’ll change their minds if you haven’t poked them. After all, does it say anywhere in the rules that you can’t change your mind?)

So, we described the characters, and why they were involved in their anti-Vampire ways. Rainbow K‘s character had a vampire contact who had been teasing her by offering her the power to do what she wanted, but we created this intensely convoluted reasoning, wherein she was his catspaw against the other vampire families. The Barbarian had as his main contact his dead father, who was the reason he was fighting, and as we pointed out, could still have a lot of minor contacts and favors, and a possibility of a cameo as a ghost.

After several rejected names for the series, we decided on “Space Slayers!” which was a tad bit misleading, but easy to remember. 1

The first scene had people going through a processing facility before they could load up on their ships. It was very depressing, with cattle-kill lines of folks being scanned for possible vampire taint, and no views of the ships. They were being held for departure when an alarm sounded. The force fields (made of anti-gravity technology) start sputtering on, when one of the spaceforce guards (in femme-style armor) is grabbed by a pair of levitating vampires. Enter combat, with lots of pretty weaponplay (including UV grenades), and a rescue of the guard, with the next scene going to be reviving her in the medical unit.

Unfortunately at that point we made it home and other things took our attention, but I think the kids liked it, and they got the hang of the narration and contribution very quickly. It’s starting to look like PTA may end up being a good “car game,” which would be a break from Amber. I think using group consensus is a fair use of the game even without cards, although it may weaken the conflict. More experimentation is needed.