Archive | April, 2012

Session 18: On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon

30 Apr

Tuesday, May 8
Guardian Games
303 SE 3rd Ave at Pine St

On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon is a game about stupid little dragons and their stupid little adventures, in the spirit of the old Dragon Magazine backup features and other fantasy-comedy comix. It’s easy to learn, takes only about an hour to play, and is totally hilarious.

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XP: Carry A Game About War

21 Apr

Carry a game about war follows an American squad through the unimaginable stress of the Vietnam War. This game tackles some heavy subject matter. In this game you know from the get go that things are going to go real bad for the squad, and we play to see how they are affected by the horrors around them.

Carry is not a game about strategy and tactics. It’s not even set in the actual Vietnam War, rather it is set in our collective memories of the Vietnam War. That may sound trivial, but it makes a world of difference. Just as the Grunts bring their own issues to the war by way of their burdens, the plays bring with them to the game the cultural imprint the Vietnam War left in the American consciousness.


The dice economy in Carry is remarkably efficient and riddled with subtleties. Generally speaking, when some mechanical effect is implemented in the fiction you are either giving dice to another player or the GM, or they are cycling in and out of the out of play pool. Once the dice are distributed in the beginning, those dice are the only dice that will be in play. Nothing gets added or removed (well, the burden die may change, but that’s a separate thing). If the GM runs out of dice it may mean an early success for the Grunts, but it will be followed by a massacre.

This is particularly apparent in action scenes. The Grunts pass dice to their ranking officer or the GM based on whether they agree with the orders or not. When these dice are rolled, the high sum gets to distribute the fallout from the fight and the difference between the two pools determines the total fallout received. There are two things to take away from this. First, the squad is going to get hurt either way; it’s only a matter of who chooses which squad members are affected. Second, if the Grunts don’t disagree, and thus don’t pass the GM dice, the fallout will be worse. Sometimes, in the heat of combat you have to make your own decisions, in the moment. Granted, this details was not really internalized by the group and it lead to a few disastrous missions.

Squad scenes allow us to see how the Grunts change under pressure. It is in these scenes that their profiles are truly apparent, and in our game, this is where they underwent the most change. Burdens were also more clearly expressed here (though we still barely got into it). Generally speaking, the more Grunts in a squad scene, and the more escalation, the better. The best moment of our game was a four way conflict in a squad scene with lots of pushing. It reminds me a bit of Apocalypse World where you mark Hx if another player inflicts harm on yours.


The one thing that we really didn’t see much of, or enough of rather, was the burdens themselves. This is probably the most important part of the game, so I honestly feel like we missed out on something. The fiction didn’t suffer for it, but it would have been much richer if it had been present.

There are two reasons for this. First of all, to address a burden the player must request a scene, rather than the GM simply setting it. So, that detail needs to be hammered home. Second, there simply was not enough time. Carry is a game that, due to its subject matter, demands its own time and space. It gets pretty dark, and so you may not feel totally comfortable playing it in public and you may need to take it at your own pace. Though Carry is a one-shot, RSGpdx may not be the ideal environment for it.

Though my complaints of this game are minor, there are a couple things you might try to tighten the experience further. First of all, using the approaches in action scenes might give more meaning to die choice and may influence the fiction in a positive way. I’m not sure if this is mechanically sound, so this may do something strange and inorganic with the dice economy, but I think it is worth a try.

The next time I play, I am going to take a page from Dogs in the Vineyard and have a boot camp intro scene where we introduce the character and their burden right away. This would make the burdens unignorable, I think. Also, Full Metal Jacket, anyone? It’s listed as one of the three major influences, so I think it is absolutely appropriate.


I am very fond of Carry. Hell, I’m very fond of most games. But Carry is one that I will be returning to very soon. Though there is occasionally some confusion (I wonder what happens when there is a profile change while the out of play pool is empty?), these issues seem to exist more in speculation than in practice.

There is one more thing you should be prepared for, though. After the game finished, and we were all sharing a beer, we realized that we just needed some quiet time. Carry does not leave you with the high-on-laughter excitement of Fiasco. It leaves you introspective and uncertain. Carry hits, and it hits hard.

Session 17: Misspent Youth

16 Apr

Tuesday, April 24
Guardian Games
303 SE 3rd Ave at Pine St

Misspent Youth by Robert Bohl is a tabletop pen-and-paper roleplaying game about friendship, rebellion, and kicking ass. In the game, you play 12- to 17-year-old kids in a future world fucked-up beyond recognition by The Authority. The Authority is a force that you create together at the start of the series and played by one person.

You want a sci-fi game? You want a game where friendship really matters? You want a game where you go around curbstomping riot-gear-suited drone-people?

This is the game for you.

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XP: Dungeon World

14 Apr

Dungeon World is an upcoming AD&D hack of Apocalypse World. Currently it is in the beta playtest stage, so it is not a finished product. While this may seem like a somewhat negative review of the game, please keep that in mind. I think that this game shows lots of promise and I am genuinely excited to see what comes of it.


Damn near every gamer knows what D&D is. Damn near every gamer has opinions about it, too. For many gamers, D&D is a heart breaker. On one hand it was the gateway to the varied universe of role playing games. On the other, many of them have been dissatisfied with the D&D experience.

One of the reasons that Apocalypse World is so cool is that it internalizes a certain play style that removes the need to find or invent one on your own. When you is down for a game of Apocalypse World you know a lot about what the game will be like, about how you engage with the fiction and how you interact with the other players. In a game of D&D those details vary considerably, depending mostly on the playstyle of the DM and of the particular dynamics of the group as a whole.

Not to say that that varied experience is a bad thing, but it does involve some initial guess work. You take the play principles of Apocalypse World, throw in some high fantasy and D&D tropes and you have Dungeon World.

If you are happy with your D&D experience, as is, then Apocalypse World and Dungeon World probably aren’t for you. And that’s totally cool. Continue to have fun. But, if you are a part of that less than satisfied demographic you should really consider giving either of these games a try.

But for Apocalypse World it doesn’t end at the principles of play. This contractual style is encapsulated in the moves, which is the term for “how you get things done.” With the moves, what they say you accomplish, you accomplish. No fussing allowed. If you earned it, you got it.

This is a response to a certain kind of negative experience that has cropped up in D&D for decades. Let’s say you are fighting a tough opponent. You are getting your ass kicked. Finally, you score an awesome hit with a 19 on the d20. But then you discover that they are immune to your weapon, and that that awesome hit has no effect. Or, maybe you scored a critical hit but rolled a 1 on the damage.

In Apocalypse World the mechanics do not undermine a previous success. You earned it, you got it. This means that the players have a huge effect on the fiction and that the MC (Apocalypse World’s GM) is playing a sort of supporting role to the players and their contributions, as opposed to the other way around.

And that is hot.


Dungeon world takes a lot from Apocalypse World, and everything it borrows works well. It manages to provide that D&D feel without resistance from the mechanics. The game get’s out of your way. It allows you to explore the world at your own pace and in your own way.

Where Dungeon World falls flat is in the places where it deviates from Apocalypse World and draws too heavily from D&D.

Though it is a comparatively small issue compared to the others, rolling damage completely undermines the contractual form of the moves. I find this very disappointing, and to me it seems to take the wind of of the sails at the table. What puzzles me is that monsters deal a flat damage in the new edition (a good improvement, as having the monsters roll for damage has similar issues) and they took out HP growth at level up (another good improvement for a variety of reasons too numerous to detail here). Why the damage roll still exists is puzzling given the nature of these other changes and the design principles at work. It is flat out against the spirit of the game. And this is doubly confusing because Apocalypse World’s harm system was just fine. Allow the fighter to take a move to extend their harm track, or improve the harm of their weapon, or fight like a gang or something. Apocalypse World had all the answers to this. Why change it?

XP is another example. While the reduction of XP for level up was a good call, my instincts say that it still needs to be reduced further. That said, you mark XP when you fail a roll, which is another great addition, and it may go a long way to address my previous concern. Outside of that the procedure to mark experience between different alignment and classes is uneven. Some classes advance much faster than others. Alignment is a whole separate issue. Unfortunately, importing Apocalypse World’s solution would be underwhelming, as highlighting stats would be a trivial affair. But then, Apocalypse World’s stats are just more provocative and better represent the principles of play. The D&D ability scores are such an icon I’m not sure I could suggest removing them, though.

Speaking of alignment, what’s the point? The implementation takes such a back seat to the play that I have to wonder. Though it would be a very different game, I wonder what would happen if the ability scores were instead alignment? Use this when acting with good, that when acting with evil, and so on. But that is not Dungeon World. Not at all.

So now some things I like. The Last Breath move is all kinds of cool and I wish we had a chance to see it in play. It is pretty much the only mechanic that adds theme to the play and engages the players and the characters in a whole different dimension. Wonderful.

Though Apocalypse World introduced the retroactive moves and custom moves, these things save so much hassle (hassle that brings back some of the more frustrating memories of D&D) that I have an irrational love for them every time they come up. I mean seriously, can we not waste our time on unimportant details and just get back to the things we actually want to do?


As I mentioned, Dungeon World is a work in progress. Hopefully they will continue to hone the features of this game to better match the principles of play.

That said, Apocalypse World had a dozen or so playbook right out the gate. Dungeon World needs more playbooks if games are going to span many sessions. Right now it is almost a kind of BECMI dungeon crawl game (which is my favorite edition of D&D), but I think their ambition goes beyond that, and they will need more playbooks to pursue those ambitions.

There are a lot of things missing from the recent beta edition. Fronts, custom moves, guidelines for designing dungeons, adventures, magic items and monsters. But, the designers know this and those things should be hot off the stove soon enough.

In the end this produces a game that is much like AD&D, scratches the same itch, but provides a healthier social environment for play and a series of positive creative feedback loops that makes play more meaningful, more engaging and more of a group activity. Dungeon World re-lights the high fantasy roleplaying torch, and I for one am much more likely to loot some dungeons now that we have Dungeon World.


Game Chef 2012

8 Apr

Game Chef 2012

Go and do it. What else needs to be said?

How about this: Let’s play your games at RSGpdx in May. We can make a thing of it.

Now get in the kitchen a make me a game!